A Poorly Managed Tumor (Moneyball-ton Wanderers – Season 1)

What do you think of when you hear the name “Bolton Wanderers”? The flair of Jay Jay Okocha? The wandering elbows of Kevin Davies? The apparent genius of Sam Allardyce? The crippling debt? The mismanagement? Yet more debt? Oh christ, not being able to put food on the table because of the constant cycle of debt and failure and falling? Falling ever deeper, deeper into the abyss while loose change falls from your hands and scatters to the winds? The constant, ever-present financial sword of Damocles hanging over a once-proud club, threatening to slice it from the Football League at any moment like a poorly managed tumor? Yeah, me too.

I’ve been craving some moneyball recently but I’ve not quite been able to scratch the itch, so I thought I’d start a new series in which we go pure moneyball and attempt to provide a financial advantage to a club that sorely needs it. I got here too late to save Bury, but Bolton will do. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’m going to be playing by the same rules as Alex Stewart did in his Football Manager Meets Moneyball series. You can have a look at his experience using moneyball with Bristol City here, but I’m going to shamelessly copy and paste his rules here anyway. This is his condensed and FM-appropriate version of the list of principles published in Soccernomics.

1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend (pp. 14-21)

2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the New Manager Syndrome (pp. 21-22)

3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team (pp. 22-24) – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments, and it’s a super small sample size.

4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil, and England (pp. 24-25)

5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside (p. 29)

6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one (pp. 43-44)

7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly, and means previous statistics have greater value (pp. 45-47)

8. Centre-forwards cost more than they should (p. 47)

9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold (pp. 48-49)

10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players (pp. 49-51)

All clear? We’re basically going to try and create a conveyor belt of talent at Bolton, minimising risk by bringing in relatively proven players with potential in their early 20’s, selling them on when they’re fulfilling that potential and having someone else ready to step in to replace them. Basically it’s just a really smart way of doing transfer business and from my dalliances in the past, I can tell you that it’s very satisfying to pull off when you get it right.

I’m going to be using FMI’s transfer update which is correct as of the 24th August 2020 (I’m writing this on the 28th. It might be a bit out of date by time you read this, but oh well) and I’ve set up a database where every league in the game is viewable and every player with national or higher reputation is included, to give us a fairly large pool of potential players to work with without making my computer want to commit seppuku.

24th June 2019

I’ve picked Bolton, as I said before, because of their financial woes. We’re £41M in debt and we will be paying that off until the end of the 25/26 season via monthly payments of £500k, which is not going to be fun to manage seeing as our starting bank balance is under £1M. However, the good news is that for this first season at least, we’re a big fish in a small pond called League 2 and really should be strolling to promotion. Our first hurdle however will be sorting out the team’s cohesion and the atmosphere in the dressing room, both of which are on the floor.

My initial assessment of the balance of the squad is this:
A) We have 7 first team quality centre backs, which is far too many. One of them’s out until January with sprained ankle ligaments, but still. Over the course of the season I need to try and shift at least 2 of these to bring the wage bill down, whether that be on paying loans or permanent transfers.

B) Coupled with our abundance of centre backs, we’re also well stocked for strikers, attacking midfielders and central midfielders, yet we have no wingers, which leads me to think that we need a 3-5-2 with wing backs. I swear I’m not actively trying to copy Alex Stewart to this extent.

C) Although it’s technically against the rules, if we line up with a 3-5-2 with wing backs, our weakest areas seem to be left wing back and goalkeeper, so I may try to get a couple of signings in before the season begins. I feel like the extra quality will be worth the risk of making a couple of non-moneyball signings.

D) Probably our main strength is that we’re starting the game with a really, really good crop of young players aged 17-21, who I’m hoping to develop and sell for big bucks, one by one. After they leave though, our youth facilities aren’t great, so I’ll need to work on making us financially stable enough to upgrade them before we can become truly self-sufficient.

So here’s the 3-5-2 I promised – We’re going to try to play our way out of League 2 with high tempo, high pressing but thoughtful passing football. I’m not going to lie, it’s incredibly similar to my Everton system, except with a different shape and a couple of other tweaks.

So lets have a rundown of the squad, which, I was pleasantly surprised to find, is pretty good. In net, Matt Gilks is currently our number 1/Goalkeeping coach, but he’s pretty poor at both so I’m probably going to cancel his contract. Billy Crellin, on loan from Fleetwood, is the next best, but I don’t want to rely on loan players so I’m probably going to cancel his loan. After those 2 we have a pair of very promising young lads called Matthew Alexander and Luke Hutchison. They’ll be providing backup to whoever I bring in as our first choice.

As I said before, we’re overly well stocked at centre back for a club in our financial situation. I’m not happy that 33 year old Alex Baptiste has just joined as one of our highest earners on a 2 year contract as that just screams bad business, even though he is currently our captain and our best option here. Harry Brockbank is one of our most promising players and has got future captain/future goldmine written all over him. The rest are fairly average with varying amounts of potential. I’ll probably try to shift Taft and Santos, who are about as good as they’re going to get.

Welsh-Australian Gethin Jones is by far our best option at right wing back and will be backed up by 20 year old Jak Hickman until I can bring in someone better.

18 year old Jordan Boon is a great left back prospect but will need time to adjust to being a wing back. 17 year old Joe White is another good young prospect and will be in the mix. I need to bring in a senior player here.

In central midfield, Sarcevic and Comley will be my preferred combination. I don’t want to lean on Tom White too heavily if I can help it as he’s on loan, while Sonny Graham and Regan Riley both have excellent potential.

Attacking midfield’s a tricky one. I have 3 excellent options and like at centre back, that’s really too many for a club like us. As the oldest and most immediately valuable, I’ll be trying to flog arguably our best player, Ali Crawford. Bit of a weird strategy, I’ll grant you, but I’m certain that Darcy and Politic can thrive in his absence.

We’re extremely lucky to have Nathan Delfouneso in his prime up front, as he’s exactly the kind of player I want leading the line at this level. He’s quick, technical and good off the ball, all of which should hopefully add up to a perfect League 2 striker. However, we also have 31 year old Eoin Doyle, who’s perfectly good now, but who’s also tied to a 4 year contract. I need to sell him sooner rather than later as his £375k value is going to plummet soon, as is the number of clubs willing to take him. I also have 3 young strikers, 2 of whom (Brown-Sterling and Brown) have massive potential. Faal doesn’t though and will probably find himself leaving before too long as well.

The bookies are pretty positive that newly promoted Salford can shoot straight up to League 1 as Champions, but we’re touted for 2nd place, which seems doable. The board want us to finish 1st, however.

Before we get into the season, I just want to lay out a few player traits that are always sticking points for me in terms of moneyball transfers and that I imagine in the lower leagues are going to make finding players to sign incredibly difficult.

Potential’s an obvious one, but an important one. I want every player I bring in to have the potential to improve in some way or another, as this will raise their market value and we want to sell players on for more than we sign them for. Fairly straightforward stuff.

This is slightly misleading, as recent form isn’t a big deal at all. How well a player’s played over a season or 2 though is huge and will be a major factor in whether or not I decide to sign a player.

Squad fit is a nice one to have, but if I’m honest it’s not a deal breaker for me as I’m not too sure how it affects things in FM. Seeing that a player won’t fit in at all can put me off, but if they’re going to be on the periphery of the squad I’m generally fine with that.

Consistency is a huge one for me. Seeing that a player is inconsistent usually kills off any interest of doing a deal. I can’t stand not knowing if a player’s going to turn up for a game or not.

I don’t expect personality to come into the equation much at first to be honest, as at this level I find that most players have balanced personalities. As the regens start coming through though it’s going to start being a bigger issue, as they’re more prone to being unambitious or difficult in some other way, which is a big no-no.

Like Consistency, this is more of a personal preference, but I just can’t bring myself to sign anyone who goes missing in the big games.

So these are the things I’ll be looking for, as well as the right attributes, being available for the right price and demanding the right wages. Erm… Wish me luck.

3rd September 2019

Well that was less gruelling than I expected, but I suspect that’s just because we’re in the first Summer and in this database there are a lot of free agents right off the bat. After a large number of players joined us on trial for the pre-season, former Liverpool and Man U youth player Sam Hart is the man I chose to be our left wing back, former Arsenal trainee Josh Vickers was brought in as our first choice goalie and former West Ham lad Charlie Seaman… Well to be honest, my Director of Football signed Charlie while I wasn’t paying attention. His signing privileges have since been revoked, but to be fair, Charlie will be decent backup at right wing back so I’m happy to have him.

There isn’t much to report in terms of outgoings. I did indeed cancel Gilks’ contract and Crellin’s loan and I tried to get rid of Taft and Santos, but only had offers from clubs who wanted to loan them for free. One thing I did manage to do though was to get Ali Crawford off the wage bill. St Mirren have loaned him for the season, paying 100% of his £2,000 per week wages and an extra £23k per month, which all in all will net us about £300k this season. Better than nothing. Newcastle teased me all Summer as they toyed with the idea of signing Harry Brockbank, but as much as I told the press I’d be willing to talk, no offers ever came.

In terms of the league, we’ve not had a thoroughly convincing start. After 8 matches, we sit 9th in League 2, having won 4, drawn 2 and lost 2. The performances however have been extremely promising, even at this early stage. We were extremely unlucky to lose both matches against Forest Green Rovers and Salford City, in which we spurned 5 clear cut chances and let in 2 screamers by the same wing back respectively, so I’m not too worried really. When I took over, the team cohesion and dressing room atmosphere were both rock bottom, so as we build both of those up and start to gel, we’ll get the results we deserve. Probably.

Oh, and we’re already in the red. Aces.

1st February 2020

Alright, no more transfer activity over January despite my efforts to thin our numbers, but we’ve come roaring back from that inauspicious start to sit comfortably on top of the league table.

We’re absolutely dominating, with the highest average possession, most goals scored and best passing accuracy in the league, as well as the fact that we’ve not lost a league match since Salford, 28 games ago. For balance though, we’ve done absolutely nothing in the cups, leaving the Leasing.com trophy in the group stage and the FA Cup in the 2nd round against Wigan Athletic. For some reason there was no League Cup this season, which I put down to a glitch in the FMI transfer update.

The most pressing issue at the minute though is our finances. We’re currently £3 million in the red and it’s looking so bleak that the board have slashed our wage budget, which I was sticking to religiously but which I am now massively over. We really, really need people to start making bids for our players.

25th April 2020

Bish, bash and furthermore, bosh.

Not an incredible achievement so I’ll try not to milk it too much, but we cantered to the League 2 title.

Our unbeaten run ended up stretching to 33 games, but Bradford made sure it didn’t reach 34. Bastards. Overall though, we ended the season in pretty good form.

As anticipated, Delfouneso absolutely tore the League 2 defences to shreds as the league’s top scorer, but what I didn’t anticipate was that Eddie Brown would have such a great breakthrough season, scoring 11 goals, registering 10 assists and eventually ousting Eoin Doyle from the starting lineup at just 19 years old. Very promising.

As well as Eddie, Sam Hart racked up a really good number of assists in his debut season, while Gethin Jones and Jordan Boon weren’t too far behind.

In terms of our most consistently good performer though, it was Alex Baptiste. A good show from the old man, but his attributes are dropping like a stone and I want him gone this Summer. He’s got a 25% promotion wage rise in his contract which means that at 34, he’s going to be a squad player for us in League 1 earning almost 5 grand a week. Anyway… Great job, Alex.

Incidentally, I have been very stubbornly forbidding any kind of agreed wage rises in player and staff contracts throughout the season. I think it’s worth doing as in this save more than any, I want to keep a really tight handle on our wage expenditure. These pre-existing contracts can’t be helped though.

My main focus this summer is going to be on shifting some high earners and especially those of a certain age. Obviously Baptiste, but Eoin Doyle and Ali Crawford also spring to mind. I also really, really need to cut down our centre back supply. I need to figure out if any of our youths are ready to step up, but if they aren’t, I might look to sign a striker to replace Doyle, a box-to-box midfielder to replace Tom White, whose loan we will not be renewing despite his good performances this season, a right wing back to replace Seaman, whose contract I won’t be renewing either, and perhaps a centre back with potential, but that’s only if I can shift enough of the duds I already have.

Most importantly of all though, I’ll be trying to raise north of £3.8M in any way I can to drag us back into the black. Everybody at this club is for sale. Please somebody make me some offers.

That’s that then. Season 1 in the bag. I’ve tried to make this episode a bit more brief than the Everton episodes, which I worried could drag on at times. Let me know what you reckon. See you in 20/21…

The Next 16 Years (Everton 1999/2000 – What Happened Next?)

Alright, I couldn’t resist. I know every youtuber and their dog have simmed this database to current day at this point, but I wanted to find out specifically what happened to my team. So I’ve simmed all the way up to today…

4th September 2020

After a very successful stint with the Blues between the ages of 7 to 12, I’m casting a look back over the intervening years having turned 29 just last week. I was hopeful of one of two things happening over this 16-and-a-bit year simulation – Either Everton would continue to be a dominant force in English and World football and rack up all the trophies they could carry, or they’d completely crumble, drop down to the First Division and I could take over again, assembling a star-studded squad of former players as my coaching staff, and take them back to glory. Neither happened.

Dave O’Leary (24/06/99 – 29/05/04)

So that we’re all on the same page, I left Everton after 5 years having won 2 domestic titles, 3 domestic trophies and a Champions League trophy.

Eric Gerets (07/07/04 – 29/05/10)

Immediately after my departure, Everton turned to Eric Gerets, formerly of PSV, Spurs, Juve and Bayern. To be fair, he did continue our success (You could argue he bettered it) – Winning a host of domestic cups, 2 Premier League titles and the European Super Cup in his first season. He’s also had the club’s highest win percentage during this save. He was sacked in 2010 though, having guided Everton to a 3rd place finish in the Premier League. How expectations have risen.

Marcello Lippi (23/06/10 – 16/05/12)

After Gerets, decorated Italian Marcello Lippi stepped up to sit on the throne, only to win nothing, finish 3rd and 4th and get himself sacked in 2012.

Claudio Ranieri (21/06/12 – 28/06/17)

Claudio Ranieri was next and unlike his compatriot, he did enjoy some success with the toffees over his 5 year stint at the helm. No league titles, but a handful of domestic trophies and a Champions League/Super Cup combo kept the fans happy before he left for the Valencia job.

Victor Fernández (06/07/17 – 16/12/17)

This is where the hiring strategy starts to smack of the “modern day” a little bit. Fernández was in charge for all of 5 months, but with the Blues struggling to even break into the European spots, he was sacked before Christmas.

Francesco Barletta (Interim 30/12/17 – 27/05/18)

With no solid options available, Everton U23 manager Francesco Barletta took over until the end of the season. Fernández hadn’t left him with an easy job, but unfortunately Francesco’s still a stain on the post-Millennium history of Everton, guiding the team to the unprecedented depths of 9th place in the Premier League.

Fabio Capello (27/05/18 – 11/06/19)

With all bets now seemingly off, Everton went all out in the Summer of 2018 to bring in former Liverpool manager Fabio Capello, yet another Italian. I genuinely wrote a song about this bloke cerca 2010 that included such transcendent lyrics as:

You made some good moves like dropping Walcott, but playing Gerrard on the left, you know you should be fucking shot.


The cash you’re getting’s dirty with a nation at your mercy, so arrivederci, Fabio. Please go.

A bit much perhaps, but this was when he was England manager and was in the wake of that putrid World Cup in South Africa. Emotions were running high. Anyway, he took Everton to 3rd, won nothing and retired. Pretty standard stuff.

Arsène Wenger (19/06/19 – 21/01/20)

You get the idea that the board was running out of ideas at this point. Arsène followed after Fernández’s lead and struggled to crack Europe while bombing out of the Cups. He didn’t last long.

Roberto Yubero (Interim 30/01/20 – 26/05/20)

Again, the job was given to the U23’s Manager for half a season – Roberto Yubero did significantly better than Barletta though, dragging the Blues up to yet another 3rd place finish.

Scot Gemmill (26/05/20 – Present)

Ooooooh yes. Finally, just 3 months ago, a familiar face took the big job. The reign of my former midfield scuttler Scot Gemmill has begun and I’m absolutely delighted. It isn’t just a token appointment either, he’s bloody good! He’s been a manager for 14 years at this point, building his way up through the hierarchy from Wigan, Sheffield United and Brighton to Rangers, Arsenal and Everton. He won a bloody quadruple in Arsenal’s 18/19 season too – Charity Shield, Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. I’m happy that the Blues’ future is in good hands after a less than convincing last few years. After admittedly only 5 games, we’re currently back at the top of the pile where we belong. I hope that he’ll do what no man has done since Gerets and actually keep us there come the end of the season.

Team of the Save

Alright, strap in. I told you last episode that this episode was going to be a long one and we have got a lot of players to catch up with. Let’s start as we nearly always have with Petr Cech.

Petr Cech (09/06/00 – 01/08/17)

What a man. What a myth. What a… Favoured personnel… Really? 17 years and 915 appearances later, he’s a “Favoured personnel” of the club? Christ, what do these people want? I did notice that I’m no longer on any of the favoured personnel lists by the way. We’ll probably get to that later. What a servant Cech was for Everton though. His rate of conceding goals dropped considerably after me and my über aggressive tactics left – In all, Petr let in 838 goals, kept 366 clean sheets and won 148 caps for Czechia. He eventually left for a last big payday with Monaco aged 35 before retiring and becoming an as-yet unemployed technical director. Hero.

Juliano Belletti (04/08/00 – 01/09/02)

Belletti went on to have a really good career, scoring twice in 67 caps for Brazil. He missed out on lifting the Champions League with us of course, but won it twice with the Gunners over a 9 year stay in North London, as well as 2 Worthington Cups. He then finished his career with brief spells with West Ham and back home in Brazil with Palmeiras.

Rio Ferdinand (17/07/01 – 06/06/15)

Rio never looked back from the Blues and is the first on our list of new Everton legends. He scored 55 goals in 731 appearances before retiring in 2015, which means he didn’t keep up his great goalscoring record and actually only scored 30 goals in his last 11 seasons, which is a shame. He ended his career in style though, winning a 2nd Champions League under Ranieri as his send-off. 115 caps for England.

David Unsworth (1990 – 18/08/97, 22/08/98 – 21/06/06)

The former captain lasted a couple more seasons after I left and overall scored 88 goals in 409 games for the club. He went on to have a quick spell at Blackburn, saw his career out with a few years at Chelsea and then bizarrely, stayed in football just long enough to take the Great Britain U23’s team to the Final of the Olympic Games, where they lost to the Netherlands and David decided that coaching wasn’t for him. Good effort though. 7 England caps. Everton legend.

Maxwell (09/06/02 – 09/07/12)

Maxwell had a fantastic career, winning trophies everywhere he went. After an 11 year stint in which he scored 75 goals and assisted another 100 in 485 games for Everton, he moved to Barcelona, after which he went back to Brazil to finish an obscenely decorated career with Corinthians. After winning so much with the Blues especially, I’m kind of disappointed that he’s not even a favoured personnel of the club. What a servant. 110 caps and 5 goals for Brazil.

Frank Lampard (17/07/02 – 12/06/15)

Like Ferdinand, Lampard stayed at Goodison for the rest of his career, making 629 appearances, scoring 80 goals and setting up 196 more. He was so consistent all the way through his career, only dropping below a 7.00 average rating in the 13/14 season (6.99) and the 14/15 season (6.76), when he was in his mid 30’s and mainly used as a substitute. He’s looking very good as a managerial prospect and has spent 5 years so far in charge of Dundee U18’s. 21 goals in 126 England caps. Everton icon.

David Beckham (01/09/02 – 05/07/10)

Becks gave us the best years of his career, scoring 41 and assisting 153 in 419 appearances, before moving to Newcastle in 2010. In 06/07 he actually managed 31 assists in a single season, bettering any return even Aimar ever gave us. Not a bad signing in the end. 11 goals in 99 England caps.

Pablo Aimar (09/06/00 – 10/06/15)

Even amidst all of the constant transfer speculation, Aimar saw out his career with the blues. Interestingly it seems like after I left, he became more of a goalscorer and less of a creator – 649 games, 296 goals, 244 assists overall. 36 goals in 108 Argentina caps. Everton icon.

Juan Roman Riquelme (01/01/01 – 25/07/05)

Riquelme didn’t stick around long after I left sadly, but actually made his home in Milan, spending the final 10 years of his career there. For Everton, he made 181 appearances, scored 42 goals and set up 54 more. For Argentina he scored 46 in 145.

Tomasz Radzinski (31/01/00 – 01/01/06)

Even when he hung up his boots at 35, Radzinski was fairly quick and still weirdly good at marking for a striker. After finally leaving us in 2006, he had a spell in Portugal with Sporting and then retired to become a scout. He’s currently with Manchester City but he has also worked with Coventry, Rangers and Everton! Good lad. 137 goals and 60 assists in 197 appearances for the toffees, which means on average he was involved in exactly 1 goal per game. What a machine. 30 goals in 79 Poland caps. Everton legend.

Christian Vieri (22/07/01 – 01/06/09)

I did not think when I signed Vieri that the club would get 8 years out of him, but he spent the best and last years of his career with us before retiring in 2009. 344 appearances, 240 goals, 56 assists. He really did end up overtaking Radzinski and then some, didn’t he. Still somehow only became an Everton icon though. 68 goals in 96 Italy caps.

Second String

Thomas Myhre (24/06/99 – 12/07/01)

Myhre had a decent career after leaving us in 2001, having spells with Schalke, Hannover and Galatasaray before retiring at 36. He never did win anything other than the FA Cup in our first season though. 71 caps for Norway.

Maicon (09/06/02 – 12/07/06)

Maicon barely played again for Everton after I left, which is a shame as he’s a player I never really managed to get going for us, mainly due to injuries. He had spells in Germany, Brazil and Belgium with a couple of Spanish loans thrown in for colour, before seeing out his playing career in Ukraine with Dinamo Kyiv. His managerial career’s off to a rocky start, having taken over at Operário Atlético Clube in the Brazilian lower leagues and winning 33% of his 24 matches before leaving. 85 appearances for Everton, 4 goals, 7 assists. Never capped for Brazil.

Richard Dunne (01/07/97 – 31/01/05, 21/06/08 – 11/07/09)

Dunne was another that turned into a bit of a journeyman, leaving for Napoli as soon as I was out the door. From there he went to Real Betis, back to Everton, then to Real Madrid, Juventus, back to Napoli and then finally Al-Ahli, retiring at 34. 196 Everton appearances, 18 goals. 4 goals in 80 Ireland caps.

Richard Gough (24/06/99 – 22/06/01)

Gough retired after my 2nd season at the club but he’s gone on to have a pretty impressive coaching career as the assistant manager of Bolton, Barnsley and Kilmarnock and the caretaker manager of the latter 2. 6 goals in 63 caps. Probably a future manager.

Michael Ball (01/07/96 – 27/07/06)

Ball had a great career. After I resigned he had loan spells with Valencia and Newcastle, then he joined Valencia permanently. After 6 years in Spain, he had a succession of 2 year stints with Sporting Lisbon, Man City, Chelsea and Bournemouth, before eventually retiring last Summer aged 39. Good effort. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his managerial career is going nowhere though. 232 appearances for us, 12 goals, 34 assists. 42 caps for England.

Hidetoshi Nakata (01/07/01 – 27/08/02)

Nakata went on to be a staple of that Barcelona team for 8 years, before having quick spells with Leeds, Roma and Fenerbahce to finish his career. Good player, shouldn’t have sold him. Shockingly, 6 goals in 15 caps for Japan. That’s got to be some weird glitch with the database, he should have played 100+ times for them.

John Collins (07/08/98 – 30/06/01)

John had a lovely old time after leaving Everton, seeing out his career with spells in Mallorca and Nice. He’s probably still sunning it up there now and good on him. 78 caps for Scotland, 15 goals.

Fabián Zapata (09/06/01 – 07/07/10)

And finally we come to someone whose playing career is still going strong. My first team was really quite old when you think about it, wasn’t it? Zapata became an important member of the Everton squad for years before finally moving to Real Madrid in 2010 for £30.5M. He stayed in the Spanish capital for 7 years before getting a free transfer to Arsenal, after which he’s spent the last 3 years with Reims in France. At 37, he’s currently got no plans to retire. 377 appearances for the Blues, 58 goals, 74 assists. 15 goals in 75 Colombia caps.

Nick Barmby (02/11/96 – 01/02/07)

Nick had a fine career, having a couple of spells at Chelsea and one at Southampton. He made a lot of appearances, won a lot of trophies and probably never made a young boy cry betrayed tears over his Nick-Barmby-themed birthday cake. See, that wasn’t hard, was it? You fucking dick. 262 appearances, 62 goals, 37 assists. 14 goals in 63 England caps.

Kevin Campbell (24/06/99 – 12/01/03)

Super Kev only lasted a couple of seasons with Torino before disappearing off the footballing stage for good. What a man, though. Should’ve won at least 1 England cap.

Francis Jeffers (01/07/97 – 17/06/09)

Franny stayed and banged the goals in for Everton until 2009, when he finally fulfilled his destiny and joined Arsenal, throwing away the remainder of his career. He had a halfdecent couple of years in London, then a poor year with Celta Vigo, before retiring aged just 32. Oh, Franny. Nevertheless, he made 387 appearances for Everton in all, scoring 181 goals and assisting 49 more. 7 caps for England, still just 1 goal. Everton icon.

Young ‘Uns

Joel Edmondson (15/01/99 – 01/09/07)

Joel’s had a pretty disappointing career, having had so much potential when we last saw him. He’s been one of those keepers that’s a number 2 nearly everywhere he goes. He’s had a couple of seasons as a Premier League first choice here and there for the likes of Middlesbrough, Derby and Man City, but he could have been so much more. Never capped at senior level by England.

Julián Rivera (01/01/02 – 12/07/04)

But holy shit, come join me on the opposite end of the scale for a second. I did say in episode 5 that this lad had the potential to oust Petr Cech but I didn’t quite see him becoming Barcelona’s starting goalie for 16 seasons and counting! He moved to La Liga for £27.5M right after I left and I’d say Barca have definitely got value for money there. 193 caps for Colombia. What a career.

James Biggins (08/01/00 – 31/07/05)

James hasn’t had quite as impressive a career, but at least he didn’t have to retire young in this universe. He’s consistently hovered in the First and Second Divisions with the likes of Barnsley, Birmingham, Palace, Swansea and Preston and is still going strong at 35. No senior England caps.

Leighton Baines (24/06/99 – 01/07/09)

Leighton never broke into Everton’s first team, but he’s still had a hell of a career, spending time with Rangers, a long spell at Schalke, then Newcastle, Middlesbrough and now Real Valladolid. The years and injuries haven’t been kind to him and physically he’s fallen off a cliff, but even with damaged achilles tendons, he’s got no plans to stop yet. 32 England caps.

Richard Brown (07/08/97 – 23/07/05)

Richard didn’t really manage to break into Everton’s first team either, but had a great Premier League career with Middlesbrough, Arsenal and Brentford, before finishing his career with Charlton in the First Division. He’s currently looking for work as an assistant manager but he’s not going to find any. Never capped by England.

Sadettin Sanli (06/07/02 – 27/07/08)

Another who didn’t fulfil his potential on this list. Sanli had 1 extremely poor season as a consistent sub for Everton in 07/08 but otherwise has bounced around everywhere before retiring this summer. After loan spells in Turkey, USA, Germany and Spain, he had short stints with Blackburn and Leicester before having a pretty good 5 year spell with Lokomotiv Moscow, a year with Lazio, 2 seasons with Stade de Reims and a final 3 seasons with Shabab Al-Ahli. To be fair, he did make 120 appearances for Turkey, scoring 6 goals.

James Vaughan (01/07/02 – 30/06/08)

Vaughan’s had a bit of a weird one. He didn’t manage to find much playing time with the Blues, so went to Derby and helped promote and cement them as a Premier League team instead. After that he played most of his career in France with Lille, Paris Saint-Germain and Nice. He’s just moved to Austria to join LASK. Nil caps.

Wayne Rooney (01/07/00 – Present)

Imagine a World where Nick Barmby can walk freely through the streets of Liverpool, Franny Jeffers waited until the tail end of his career before fucking it up and Wayne Rooney is still at Everton aged 34. We really ended up in the darkest timeline from an Everton fan’s point of view, didn’t we. Overall, the prodigal son’s made 886 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 453 goals and assisting 112 more. He even shattered Christian Vieri’s record by scoring an insane 49 goals in his fabled 07/08 season. A mere Everton icon, which makes no fucking sense. 47 goals in 142 England caps.

Victor Anichebe (01/07/02 – 01/09/05)

Anichebe’s had a good solid career, but not with us. He spent 7 years in Middlesbrough after an £11M move, then 8 years at Fenerbahce after a £6.5M move. He’s just made a free transfer to Salernitana in Serie A. 20 goals in 70 Nigeria caps. Good lad, Victor.

Luke Marriott (27/10/97 – 01/07/07)

To say that Luke’s playing career was god awful, his coaching career’s actually started off very promisingly. He had a good solid 4 year playing spell with Bristol City in the First Division, then went and made 0 appearances for Toronto FC over his 5 years there, then had a decent 3 year spell with Braunschweig in the Bundesliga 2. He’s fallen on his feet after retirement though and has instantly got a job as Dundee Utd’s U18 manager, where he’ll rival Frank Lampard. Why not.

Stein Huysegems (01/01/00 – 07/08/04)

Huysegems had a bit of an erratic career. After many loan spells while with Everton, he eventually left for Inter Milan, Hertha Berlin, Man City and eventually Chinese club Henan Jianye, where he became a club icon. 7 goals in 15 Belgium caps.

And that’s it. I’m fully satiated with this save and I can’t think of a single other thing to do with it. Great job reading all the way to the end if you have done, to be honest this episode was mainly for me. I love shit like this. Again, thank you for reading. Hope you’ve enjoyed the deep dive into these players’ alternative lives and I’ll see you soon.



Spreadsheet Time (Everton 1999/2000 – Review)

Get fucking excited, it’s spreadsheet time!

I’m going to be giving out some awards, as I sometimes do, only these ones can be backed up (Or furiously disputed) using cold hard numbers and statistics thanks to this little beauty I knocked up:

Find the spreadsheet here

The “Unshiftable Presence” Award

For the player who played the most games for me

Starting nice and easy then. Unsurprisingly, this goes to Petr Cech for his 232 appearances in 4 years. That’s a lot of football and I’m grateful for him only missing about 3 matches through injury. Obviously we conceded a lot of goals, but I feel like that was going to happen with any keeper because of my tactics. Cech was good for us. He conceded 263 goals during his time with the Blues and kept 79 clean sheets. Not mind blowing stats, but to say we got him for free, I think he turned into a great bit of business.

To be honest I was surprised to see Jeffers and Barmby as high up as they were and also to see that Aimar only just snuck into the top 10, but I suppose the former 2 were first team players for a long time and Aimar had an infuriating amount of injuries.

The “Terminator” Award

For the player who scored the most outrageous amount of goals

Honestly, this one was closer than I thought it’d be. But not that close that the result wasn’t obvious. Now I get to remember Tomasz Radzinski not as a pretty decent striker who scored two lates goals against Southampton that one time to set Goodison ablaze around me, but as a monster of a man who rivalled any other Premier League striker. He scored 123 goals over his 4.5 years with us in total, but it’s a shame that his time with me ended with such a whimper. He struggled for goals and therefore playing time in our final season, before damaging his spine and sitting out all of the crunch matches that won us our Premier League/ Champions League double. Nevertheless, for the middle 3 seasons he was absolutely on fire and the major reason we had such a successful save. £4.8M seemed like a significant amount to spend in that first season, but bloody hell what a bargain.

I thought that Vieri would be closer to the winner, even having only been with us for 3 seasons. Flash forward a year and I’m absolutely certain he would’ve surpassed Tomasz. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Franny Jeffers in 3rd place, just pipping the obscenely high scoring defender David Unsworth.

The “Selfless As Fuck” Award

For the player who laid on goal after goal

I mean, it’s Pablo Aimar. Obviously. None of these have been surprising so far. I genuinely think that this £1.6M signing catapulted us into Elite status as a club. I mean, look at him. He’s so good. I don’t have any way of seeing what his current ability is but it’s got to be close to 200. Aimar set up 92 goals in his 4 year stint with us, but like Radzinski, it’s a shame that he wasn’t more pivotal in our greatest achievement. He missed pretty much the entire 2nd half of the season, got fit for the Champions League Final and did his cruciates before the half hour mark. Still, what a class player.

Radzinski deserves credit for being almost as good at setting up goals as scoring them. Otherwise, no real surprises here. Lampard, Beckham and Arruabarrena were all close to the top 10, but didn’t quite make it due to not having spent as much time with the club as the other players.

The “Dirty Bastard” Award

For the player who definitely went for the ball, but was a bit late. Often.

Step forward and let me ruffle your hair, David Unsworth. You little rascal. To be fair, 49 yellow cards in 207 games isn’t that bad. It’s the 1 red card that still gives me flashbacks. The red card that in my opinion sent us out of the Champions League at the Quarter Final stage against Inter. Nevertheless, he was my captain for the majority of this save and was the only original player not to be ousted from the starting lineup at any point and that’s worth a golf clap.

Unsurprisingly, the defenders dominate this top 10, with the ones with us from the start seeming to be closer to the top. Makes sense. Shout out to Gattuso though, who was with us for 4 seasons and was only a first teamer for 2 of those, but still managed to rack up 40 yellows and a red. Dirty bastard.

The “Daddy’s Favourite” Award

For the best performing player

Here’s the big one then. The one that the players all covet. Who over our 5 year spell in charge of Everton has performed the best? It gives me great pleasure to award this award as a reward for putting all those defences to the sword to… Stein Huysegems…?

Uh, yup. For his average rating of 7.95 in 2 Everton appearances, our £240k signing from Lierse in January 2000 has technically performed the best. Although he’s mainly been tearing up the scoring charts in Belgium and Switzerland, so I think we’d better add an asterisk here.

The best performing player who’s at least played a reasonable sample size of let’s say 30 games for the club is Tomasz Radzinski. Of course it was. In his pomp, he was ridiculously consistent and so thoroughly deserves the award. One thing that’s stood out to me since reviewing all of these stats, by the way, is that I probably would’ve been better off making Nakata stay instead of replacing him with Beckham before the 4th season. The differences between them are pretty negligible except for the fact that Nakata scored more goals in his single season than Becks did in 2, while Beckham cost me Nakata plus £15M. Oh well, it’s easy in hindsight isn’t it.

Team of the Save

I think the only thing left to do is to name my team one more time. This is my best and second best team according to the average ratings of the players (Again, they have to played 30 times to qualify).

No surprises whatsoever for the first team, really. For me, Nakata deserves the starting berth ahead of Beckham but was marginally inferior in terms of average rating, so fair enough.

There are a couple of blasts from the past in the second string, though. Thomas Myhre beats Steve Simonsen and Paul Gerrard by virtue of being our only other keeper to have played more than 30 games. In defence, stalwarts Abel Xavier, David Weir and Michael Ball are all left out in favour of Maicon, Richard Gough and Rodolfo Arruabarrena, while in midfield Gennaro Gattuso is shockingly left out, with John Collins just beating him to the punch. It could barely have been closer.

The attacking quartet is no surprise whatsoever. All great players.

I think that’s all I have for you. I’ve enjoyed this save (The vast majority of it anyway) as it’s always fun to rewrite history, see minor players emerge as stars and vice versa. Again, I’d highly recommend giving this database a go if you haven’t already. Thanks again for reading and hopefully I’ll see you soon for… Honestly I don’t know what, but something.



Edit – Alright, 1 more episode but then I promise I’m done

Since finishing writing this episode, I decided to start simming to present day to see where everyone ended up and I reckon it’s interesting enough to warrant another episode. I’m gunna warn you now, it’s going to be a long one. I’m going to look at how Everton fared without me, what happened to everyone in my Team of the Save and Second String and I want to see what happened to our most promising youngsters. With this in mind, I’m adding a youngster XI that we’ll check back with next weekend.

I’ll grant you it isn’t a conventional lineup, with 2 goalkeepers and 0 centre backs. But I’ve been invested in each of these players’ futures to varying degrees and I want to see what happens to them. Alright, see you on Friday.

Now Or Never (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 5 )

5th July 2003

I had completely forgotten that Elton John ever collaborated with the ghost of 2pac, but nevertheless, Ghetto Gospel is sitting pretty on top of the UK charts as we enter our 5th season in charge of the Toffees. Crazy Frog is beginning it’s long descent towards the dregs of our collective memory where it fucking deserves to be and James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful is sitting at a gentleman’s 3rd place. What an erratic year in the history of Music.

I’ve returned with a sense of grim determination to redeem my good name after it was besmirched towards the back end of last season by the 2 Uniteds that nobody likes. I’m also not bitter. It was a bumpy year but I’m certain that with a couple of choice additions and a pinch of luck, we’ll be able to top the table and/or bring home European glory.

And would you believe that those choice additions are already in? Of course you would! When have I ever lead you astray? The vast majority of my £23M budget went on securing the services of Newcastle’s Craig Bellamy. He’s cost us £22M, but I think it’s good business and I’ll tell you why.

Bellamy probably comes in as our 3rd choice striker, below Vieri and Radzinski and above Jeffers. He’s natural as an advanced forward, adept on either wing and has such solid attributes across the board. His only weakness is heading the ball, but as my forward line throughout this save has mainly been composed of smaller, quicker players, we always use low crosses anyway. You could argue that we’re strong from set pieces, from which we do usually loft the ball into the box, but that’s what Unsworth and Ferdinand are there for. Craig’s also great from the spot and to let you in on a secret, I think we’ll have a penalty shootout this season. I have no idea whether that’ll come true as I write these in real time, but I’m really gunning for silverware and if we’re to go deep in the FA Cup and the Champions League, there’s a good chance it’ll come down to pens. Craig comes with a wealth of benefits for this squad and I’m happy to have him.

For our second signing, I wanted to bolster the midfield after losing both Mark Pembridge and Scott Gemmill on free transfers to Krasnodar and Spurs respectively. At first I decided not to buy a replacement after all. I decided that our 4 midfielders will be Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Gennaro Gattuso and Richard Brown.

Brown’s an academy graduate that’s been out honing his craft with Wycombe and Brentford for the last 2 seasons but in my opinion he’s come back good enough for a squad place. He’s not a natural centre mid but he’ll soon get there with Becks and Lampard showing him the ropes. He’s smart, good on the ball and able to hold his own physically. But even having made that choice, I still decided to make another signing.

34 year old David Batty is in on a free transfer and will be central midfielder number 5, offering us an upgrade on what Gemmill gave us last season. He’s a scary bastard, a good leader and a hard tackler and if we had an injury crisis in midfield, I’d be comfortable sticking him in there. Plus, how good would it feel if he helped us knock Leeds out of a cup?

You’ll also note that the usual shit tonne of young players have found loan clubs. I’ll have a keen eye on First Division club Millwall’s progress this year as they’ve taken goalkeeper Alan Mannus, left back Leighton Baines, midfielder Leon Osman and striker Wayne Rooney for the season. Realistically, I only have hopes for the futures of Baines and Rooney but they’re both coming along an absolute treat.

First team time, then. Let’s have a look. Same as last year I’m going to show you my whole squad, which is now a whopping 26 players.

Petr Cech’s attributes continue to go from strength to strength, so he’s obviously still my boy between the sticks. Cech’s place isn’t guaranteed forever though, as young Colombian Julián Rivera had a really impressive season on loan at Bournemouth in the First Divison last year, conceding just 28 goals in 46 games as the Cherries won promotion. Rivera’s back on loan with them in the Premiership this season and I might have to make a decision if I’m still here in a year’s time. Rotting away in the stands are 2nd and 3rd choice goalies Steve Simonsen and Paul Gerrard, the latter of which has asked to leave twice a season since the save began, but my captain always batters him back into line. I do feel a bit sorry for him.

At right back, Maicon’s my starter with Abel Xavier backing him up. After an injury-hit first season in blue, I’m hoping Maicon kicks on this year.

At centre back, Rio Ferdinand and David Unsworth remain the crux of our back line, with Richard Dunne and David Weir both still happy to play 3rd and 4th fiddle respectively.

On the left, Maxwell’s now comfortably my first choice left back but Michael Ball is still a fine alternative. We also now have Moreno Torricelli, who will be providing cover for a whole host of positions, but mainly the 2 full back spots.

When fit, Frank Lampard and David Beckham will be providing the base of our attacks. They’ve formed a good partnership in the middle which I hope will pay dividends this season. Behind them as I’ve mentioned are Gennaro Gattuso, Richard Brown and David Batty.

On the right wing, as per usual, Pablo Aimar is the man. Fabián Zapata’s progress since he joined us has been fantastic though and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can rival the Argentinian one day. One thing I should mention about Aimar is that I’ve been fending off some bids for him this Summer. Despite him signing a new deal at the end of 2002, Barca, Bayern and Real Madrid have all been lowballing me with £25M offers and I doubt they’re finished yet. Pablo’s beginning to question his future, which is bad news.

Juan Roman Riquelme is my first choice left winger and Nicky Barmby is as able a deputy as ever. You might be noticing with these wingers that I’m training them all up to be able to play on either side, just for the added versatility. We also have Mustapha Riga as added wing cover as he’s already natural on both sides.

And up front, our ever dependable strike force of Tomasz Radzinski and Christian Vieri is backed up by new signing Craig Bellamy and old faithful Franny Jeffers.

So not including Rivera, who’s out on loan, that is 26 players, most of whom are comfortable in a number of positions. I’m probably digging our grave here, but injuries should not be a concern whatsoever this season. We have shit loads of quality, we have shit loads of depth and in my opinion we should be winning this league. “But what was that weird comment about if you’re here next year?” you ask. “And why is this episode called Now or Never?”

Well the thing is, I think this might be my last season commentating on this save and I think that for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the board expectations.

Our club culture is fine, we’re nailing all of those objectives. The thing is though, we are required to win the league this year. At time of writing, I’m quite shaken, yet cautiously optimistic after our failure last season. I genuinely don’t know if we have what it takes to see off United. They’re still favourites for the title. I’m 50/50 about Leeds to be honest. So yeah, if we don’t win the league there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be sacked. This seems mental if you’re comparing my Everton to the real world equivalent in 2003, but it is what it is. There’s also the problem of our finances.

At the start of the save, with a debt-free Everton, we were able to build our finances massively as we were paying average players pittance for wages and raking in TV money. Now though, we’ve turned back the other way. We have a really high quality squad and we’re paying the sort of wages that a really high quality squad expects to be paid. We slipped into the red for the first time right at the end of last season and as we currently have £20M in the bank and we’re spending over £1M per week on wages, I dare say we’ll do it a lot sooner this year.

The other problem is the age of some of our key players. Vieri is a global star but will turn 30 in a week. Radzinski is built for speed, but he’ll also be 30 later in the year. How long before his pace melts away? Unsworth and Barmby will both reach the same milestone this season. Some of these players are going to start to go downhill in the next year or two. This season might be our last chance to have everyone at their best. With our finances in such a sorry state, will we be able to replace them?

So it’s now or never. This episode might end with us lifting 5 trophies, while the crowd chants “4 more years! 4 more years!”. It might end with us being mathematically eliminated as title contenders with 5 games to go and the board booting me out onto Stanley Park without a word of thanks. Whether it’s forced upon me or whether the story’s run it’s course by then, I don’t know if I’ll write about a 6th season. Let’s hope this one’s a good one, just in case.

Fuck me, I’ve written 1600 words. Let’s at least start the season, shall we?

1st September 2003

Good start, boys.

United, Everton and Sunderland have all come flying out of the traps. United have the superior goal difference, but it’s still all to play for.

As we finished 3rd last season, we had to come through a qualifying round to reach the Champions League Group Stage, but without meaning any disrespect to Beitar Jerusalem, that was a formality. We tore through them and we’ve yet to score fewer than 4 goals in a league game, including a very satisfying 4-1 win over Liverpool.

Pleasingly, Bellamy’s already got a couple of goals under his belt in the CL qualifying matches, but the real star of the show so far has been Christian Vieri, who’s scored a ridonculous 7 goals in 3 matches including hat tricks against Middlesborough and West Ham. Manchester United are interested in taking him from us, along with Radzinski and Aimar. In short, Fergie can jog right on. Aimar (who we’ve convinced to stay with us) has also had a great start, registering 1 goal and 5 assists in his 3 appearances, while I also want to give a shout out to Jeffers. I’ve given him some shit in recent seasons, but 2 goals and 3 assists in 4 appearances is not a bad start at all.

Honestly there’s not a lot else to tell you about at the minute. No more signings, although a few more kids went out on loan. I’ve also changed some squad numbers around – Tomasz Radzinski’s been wearing number 38 for 3 and a half years but he’s finally taken Campbell’s number 9, Riquelme’s worn 30 for 2 and a half years but also gets a first team squad number – 11. Ferdinand’s had a couple of niggly injuries, Dunne’s out for a month and Riquelme’s missed a couple of matches, but otherwise it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far. Hopefully that can continue on into the new year.

1st January 2004

“Woah! Back on top of the table, Man U and Leeds lagging behind, Vieri blitzing the league’s top goalscorer table… You must be made up!” You all cry in unison. On the contrary though this first half of the season has been so frustrating that I’m sat here with an actual real life stomach ache. The main reason for this has been the injuries. Oh God, the injuries.

It may not have seemed like it at the time, but up until now when we’ve been blighted by injuries, I’ve taken it on the chin. As I’ve said before, we press relentlessly and play at a breakneck pace, so of course as the season goes on we’ll pick up some muscle injuries through accumulated fatigue. The reason I’m crying into my gin tonight is because it’s fucking January and look at all those injuries!!

Craig Bellamy was the first real hammer blow. The damaged cruciates he suffered at the end of October could in theory end his season, although I hope not. Ball and Torricelli missed the majority of the first half of the season through this and that, we had niggles all over the shop but then just as it seemed as though we were through the worst of it, Xavier did his hip and is out until about March. Then a day later, Maicon broke his wrist and is probably also out until March. Thank fuck we’ve managed to get Torricelli fit again is all I’ll say.

But as we’re having yet another crisis at right back, I’ve brought this lad back from his loan spell in the Eredivisie and taken him off the transfer list as he’ll be providing us with cover for the next few months. Everyone, meet Tony. Tony, this is everyone.

Tony Hibbert has his flaws and at 22 years old he’s not exactly going to turn into a World beater, but as a 4th choice right back he’ll do just fine. I considered bringing Biggins back from his loan spell, but he could still do with the regular game time as his career still has some hope… Sorry, Tony. Hibbert’s actually also had injury woes this season but he should be back in full training in a couple of days.

With Bellamy out, I’ve also recalled Wayne Rooney home earlier than I’d planned to. We’ve been making do with 15 year old Victor Anichebe as our 4th choice striker until now, but he’s just not ready and neither is James Vaughan. At 18 and with his attributes still rising rapidly, Rooney could be. He’s had a solid enough few months with Millwall, albeit scoring only 5 goals, and I have faith that he’ll do alright as a squad player.

Anyway, with that whole mess out of the way, we’ve actually had a really good season so far.

It’s still been a lottery against the top sides, although the top sides seem to have changed slightly this season. Leeds have fallen off pretty spectacularly while Arsenal have made a late-2023 surge into the title race. Man United are still in the running thanks to what was in my opinion an extremely lucky win over us at Goodison.

They kept us at bay by the skin of their teeth up to about the 60th minute, when Frank Lampard drilled in a half volley to make it 2-1 to the blues. At least that’s what I’d thought until it became clear that David Unsworth was stood in Mark Bosnich’s eyeline in an offside position. It remained 1-1 for about 30 seconds until United won a soft free kick on the edge of our box and Giggs curled it in. As I say, they were lucky. And as I say, I’m salty.

Against Arsenal, we gave as good as we got, but just couldn’t finish our chances like they could. 3-5 it ended and I put it down to an extremely rare off-day for Christian Vieri. I’m fed up of talking about the shitty parts of this season though so let’s move onto how much of a God Christian’s been in basically every other match.

I’ll remind you that we’ve just entered January and Christian Vieri has scored 30 goals in all competitions. 30!!! In 22 matches!! Well, he actually reached the milestone in 20 matches and he’s now having what constitutes as a goal drought in his obscene little world. 9 assists, too. No surprise then that he’s just won the World Golden Ball, Footballer of the Year and World Player of the Year awards, as well as a spot in the World Team of the Year alongside Lampard. It turns out my worries over him turning 30 were completely invalid after all.

Our first Champions League group looked tricky, but we got through it straightforwardly enough, even managing to take a point off Real as we qualified with 2 games to spare. They won the competition last year so I’m happy enough with 1-2 and 1-1 results against them.

That’s all I have for you for now. No transfers on the horizon, but my entire team is still being hounded by various global powerhouses so who knows.

1st February 2004

That was a big, juicy month on our quest for silverware.

Our first match of January was away at Elland Road in the league; the 1st of our 3 meetings with Leeds throughout the month. To be honest, Leeds were exactly the team that I’d rather not have faced if I could help it, as when the transfer window opened they splashed out £75M on Samuel Eto’o and Walter Samuel. The legendary centre back did bag a debut goal against us, but it was a mere consolation as we steamrolled the Yorkshiremen. In fact we won all of our league games this month, which is extremely pleasing considering that I played reserve teams in most of them to keep the big guns fit for our cup matches.

We were back at Elland Road a week after our league meeting for the first leg of our Worthington Cup Semi Final and to be fair, Leeds beat us fairly comfortably. They lead for most of the match and things got more tricky when Fabián Zapata went in 2 footed on his man and received his marching orders. We fought back, but were pegged back again by the dominant home side.

Days before the 2nd leg, we were back at Goodison to play a tough FA Cup 4th round tie against new title contenders Arsenal. They’d beaten us handily in the league in December, but this time, thanks to our rotation, we were slightly fitter and we were the dominant side. It was still an extremely nervy match, so much so that I was terrified of making any subs as I feared it would throw off our balance, but we came through it thanks to goals from Vieri and Jeffers, who now seem to be our best strikeforce. Radzinski’s had a disappointingly quiet season.

Then came the 2nd leg of the League Cup Semi and we brought Leeds back to ours for meeting number 4 of the season. Torricelli was suspended but luckily Maicon resumed full training on the day of the match and I hesitantly threw him right back in at the deep end. He did fine and we took an early lead through Aimar. For the bulk of the match both sides had chances but the game remained delicately poised, although we had the away goals advantage. When Nick Barmby struck a late 2nd though, I breathed a sigh of relief. We’ll be going to Wembley to face off against Manchester United to see if we can retain the Worthington Cup.

I’ve been pretty annoyed with our FA Cup draws so far, although I guess it’s good to get some big hitters out of the way early. We’ve beaten Newcastle and Arsenal and West Ham are up next. They’re not to be underestimated as they’re battling for Europe and have ageing superstar Gabriel Batistuta banging in the goals up front. I’d have loved to get a lower league side in the 3rd or 4th round to take some pressure off the first team, but them’s the breaks.

We’ve tied Mustapha Riga and Nick Barmby to new deals that’ll keep them with us for another couple of years beyond the Summer but we are going to be saying goodbye to Leon Osman at the end of the season as he’s agreed a free transfer to Rangers. I guess we never really said hello to him actually, so… Never mind. If we hadn’t spent the bulk of this save towards the top of the table maybe he could’ve been a squad player for us, but we’ve just never needed him.

And I’ve made the decision that I’ll also be letting Davids Batty and Weir go in the Summer. Batty’s 35 and has done fine during the few appearances he’s made for us. Weir will be 34 in May and I think if I did carry this save on I’d be looking to splash out on another first team centre back to partner Rio Ferdinand, keeping Unsworth and Dunne as backup players.

Right, let’s get the rest of this tied up with a neat little bow.

29th May 2004

I have decided that this has indeed been the final episode of my journey through the early noughties database. A lot has happened since February, even more so than usual, so before I reveal how we did, I’d like to actually give you a play by play of the last 4 months, which I hope will explain my decision.

February was straightforward enough, for the most part. We did struggle to a draw at Middlesbrough, but won the rest of our matches leading up to the Worthington Cup Final comfortably. We did however have another major injury blow during the trip to Milan – Pablo Aimar had to come off with what turned out to be a torn groin muscle. I was pretty crestfallen, as I was really hoping for silverware and was now facing the prospect of my best creative player missing the rest of the season. I really feared the worst when Riquelme and Radzinski both had to come off during the following match against Bremen, but luckily their injuries turned out to be minor.

Then at the end of the month came the League Cup Final against Manchester United. United had not had as incredible a league season as they did last year, but nevertheless the match felt like we were going through the motions. We’ve played them so often during this save and no matter how much quality we bring in, they nearly always seem to have just enough to see us off. We put in a good performance, but United were just better, striking twice to send us home from Wembley defeated.

March went really, really well. Thanks to our 4 champions league wins in February, we had already qualified for the knockout stages, so I felt comfortable giving my reserve side a run out and… 2 more wins! Anichebe and Rooney were particularly impressive, scoring 2 and 3 goals in these matches respectively. We were still fighting off niggly injuries here and there while trying desperately to bring our right backs up to full fitness, but we did both successfully, winning every single match and coasting past both West Ham and Aston Villa to reach the FA Cup Semis.

I should have realised that everything was going a bit too smoothly, because what happened during the international break caught me completely off guard – While playing for Poland against Tunisia, Tomasz Radzinski was tackled awkwardly and picked up an injury. What kind of injury? Oh, just a damaged spine.

A damaged spine?!?! I didn’t even know that such a thing was in the pissing database! I don’t know if it’s specific to this particular database, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. It sounds horrific! Anyway, Radzinski’s out until somewhere between the start of next season and Christmas. Goody.

April. Oh April. The beginning of April was the time that I knew for certain I wasn’t carrying on with this save. Our run of matches was absolutely stomach churning.

Starting with a crucial Premier League game against United. Thanks to our fixture congestion, Arsenal were 3 points ahead of us at the top of the league, United were 3 points behind us. We both had a game in hand on Arsenal and this was it. Either the Gunners would pull away from us and United in joint 2nd, or we’d climb up to joint 1st and go top on goal difference.

Thank fuck for that. I’ll talk more about Franny later, but he really made the difference at the most crucial time for us here. We moved back to the top of the pile.

With a tough run of games coming up, I sent the reserves out against bottom-of-the-table Stoke and we took the points easily. Then we immediately went back to Old Trafford for a Champions League Quarter Final first leg.

I was actually happy with this result. It wasn’t perfect, but we snatched a late away goal to put the pressure on United. Riquelme’s knock again turned out to be nothing serious too, so that was good news. To cleanse the palette, we went back to Goodison to prepare for the visit of our main title rivals.

Again, thank fuck. Unsworth gave away a penalty early on and Overmars opened the scoring. Then just a minute after Vieri levelled the scores, Overmars unlevelled them again. It took until the 85th minute, but eventually Vieri turned the thrusters on, burst down the left wing, cut inside and slipped the ball past Thomas Sørensen at his near post. I clutched the point to my chest and breathed another sigh of relief. If we could get past Anfield and barring any upsets against weaker teams, the league title should be ours.

Now let’s go play pissing United again. Fuck me sideways.

Alright, to be honest this one was a breath of fresh air. Despite the growing fatigue and constant threat of yet another season-ending injury, we’d been doing recovery sessions every day in training and it seemed to be paying off. We looked much fresher and actually dominated against an equally weary Red Devils side. We had Riquelme to thank really, as he crossed in for Beckham to head home our first, then met Lampard’s cross with a header of his own to score our second, then played a beautiful ball over the top for Franny to run onto and slide home to complete our 3-1 win.

With our place in the Champions League semi-final secured, it was time to head off to Wembley to play Leeds, because this month will never end. Bare in mind, this is 2 and a half weeks after that League match against United.

Frankly, I’m amazed that it took us until now to lose one of these huge matches. The manner of the loss though… It was one of them where all you can really do is laugh. We absolutely rained shots down on Dida’s goal, but he was swinging back and forth like Spider-Man to deny us time and time again, while Cech had the opposite sort of game. Oh well, brush it off. The FA Cup’s not what we’re here for anyway.

4 days later, it was time for our first Champions League Semi leg against Bayern.

I may as well bring this up now – I’ve seen it said in a few different places that English clubs are so overpowered in this database and I have to say I 100% agree. I mean, they’re usually overpowered anyway, but this is daft. How do we go through all this and then not even allow Bayern Munich a shot on target? It’s not like they don’t have good players either, they have the likes of Philipp Lahm, Markus Babbel, Emile Mpenza, Oliver Neuville… Oliver Kahn, for fucks sake. He’s arguably the best keeper in the world at this time.

We finished the month off with a narrow victory over West Ham in the league, in which we hit the woodwork 6 times. Thought I’d show this just for the ridiculousness of it. Crucially, Arsenal also drew with Newcastle at this point, while United’s form had seen them pretty much fall out of the title race, which was a massive weight off the shoulders. It meant we could afford at least a small slip up in the league.

So yeah, that was our April. I think it was around the 2nd match against United that I decided that my enjoyment of this save had fallen off into a pit.

May was slightly better. We started with a trip to Munich…

… Which was much more testing than the home leg, but we kept the home side at bay to win our place in the Champions League Final. Everything seemed to rest on our next match. If we could get a point away at Liverpool, the Premier League title should be ours. A League/Champions League double could actually be on.

And cometh the hour, cometh the Fran. I’m so happy that he’s redeemed himself for a quiet couple of years before I wrapped this save up. Arsenal were still just 2 points behind us after beating West Ham, but with only bottom-half teams to play in our final 4 games, we shouldn’t be dropping any points now.

Midweek, we beat Chelsea 1-0 at Goodison while Arsenal got battered 5-1 by Manchester United. The following weekend, we slaughtered Manchester City 3-0, also at Goodison, while the Gunners lost away at Liverpool. The title was ours.

And more good news, Pablo Aimar resumed full training in time for our 2 dead rubbers against Bournemouth and Sunderland! My plan was to give him the full 90 minutes in both to try to get him fit to face Barcelona in the Champions League Final and pray that he doesn’t pick up another injury in the process.

I gave the first team a well deserved week off for these games and played my fitness-starved second string for both games. We’d rotated a little bit throughout April, but most first teamers had played in all of those games. That’s every Wednesday and Saturday for 6 weeks straight. Rio Ferdinand was half dead.

We overcame relegated Bournemouth thanks to 2 goals from Pablo Aimar, which made me very happy, but then got put to the sword by a surprisingly ruthless Sunderland side and their Moroccan striker Salaheddine Bassir on the final day. I even brought some first teamers off the bench to try and salvage a point, but to no avail.

So that was the league wrapped up. We didn’t break any records, but in the end we won by a surprisingly comfortable margin. Special thanks to Arsenal for collapsing spectacularly towards the end there.

And guess who was deemed fit to resume full training with a week to go before the Champions League Final? Only Craig bloody Bellamy. 7 months out and his attributes are looking surprisingly intact.

His match sharpness was absolutely awful, but I thought he’d be fine for a squad place in case my pre-season prediction came true and we did actually go to a penalty shootout. We had a friendly a week before the big game to make sure the first team weren’t getting rusty after their little break, then we headed over to Budapest.

The Champions League Final was a big one for me. I sort of wanted a close game to make it interesting, but then after this absolute slog of a season I also kind of wanted a big uncomplicated thrashing to finish us off in style. I desperately wanted to win, because I thought it would be a good way to finish this save and I absolutely didn’t want to lose and feel obligated to carry on in search of Champions League glory.

I had predicted seeing our old friend Nakata in the starting XI, which he was, but what I didn’t expect to see was Roque Santa Cruz leading the line for Barcelona ahead of the likes of Patrick Kluivert and Luis Enrique. A quick glance at the Paraguayan’s attributes made me very, very worried.

Nevertheless, the game was fairly even. I’d say we edged it but in terms of quality chances made, the 2 sides were about level. We were dealt a real killer blow just 24 minutes in though when Pablo Aimar had to be stretchered off with a particularly nasty looking injury. We’d got him match fit just in time for the big game but he didn’t even make it through half of it.

We brought on Jeffers, who I’d left out purely because he doesn’t tend to perform well in the big games and within 10 minutes we were ahead, with Lampard dribbling through Barce’s defences and teeing up Vieri, who slipped in goal number 45 of the season. Seriously.

5 minutes after half time we were pegged back when Unsworth tripped Hernan Crespo in the box and Rivaldo equalised from the spot. The scores stayed level until extra time.

With half an eye on potential penalties, I’d still only made 1 substitute to replace Aimar with Jeffers. Before extra time I made a 2nd, bringing on Nick Barmby for Fabián Zapata and swapping Riquelme over to the right. Zapata’s been excellent this season, especially since Aimar’s injury, but he’d had a quiet game and Nick was a way better penalty taker. Because these tournaments use modern day rules, I still had 2 substitutes remaining. I’d wait until the 120th minute before bringing on David Batty and Craig Bellamy to add to the penalty queue.

Except I didn’t have to. In the 116th minute, as my mouse cursor hovered over the “Quick Substitution” button, Franny Jeffers tore down the right wing, crossed to the near post and Vieri arrived to poke in goal number 46.

We’ve only gone and done it.


Poor Pablo. He managed to fit 3 and a quarter matches in between horrible injuries. Doesn’t affect us much though, so let’s finally talk about all the stuff we talk about at the end of the season.

My giddy Aunt, Christian Vieri, what are you? 46 goals and 13 assists in 51 appearances for us is obscene. I’ve seen some lethal strikers over the course of this save, but this takes the biscuit. He’s broken his own Premier League record of 29 set last season.

I won’t bang on about him too much because I want to do a final recap episode where I’ll go into a bit more detail for the nerds among us. Likewise for Franny Jeffers, who’s had a stellar season. Special shout outs on this list to 2 players who’ve improved massively over this season – Fabián Zapata has been excellent and scored 14 goals for us, while Wayne Rooney is finally looking like the Premier League striker he’s been threatening to be since that 2nd season. 10 goals for Wazza (Over just half a season) at 18 years old.

And the usual shout out to Pablo Aimar. Even in an injury-ravaged season, he’s managed the same amount of goals and 1 more assist than last season in 8 fewer appearances. Riquelme managed over twice as many assists as he’d managed in any of the previous 3 seasons, while David Beckham improved pretty well for both goals and assists.

So that’s it. We’ve had some amazing signings, some ridiculous matches, a healthy handful of major trophies and A LOT of goals. We brought through a few youth players and we never ever stopped fighting. This is more like the Everton I know… Obviously this is way, way better than the Everton I know, but you get my point. I’d call this save a success and I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey from scrappy lower mid-tablers to European Champions.

Cheers for reading,


Tall Order (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 4)

2nd July 2002

I didn’t even need to look up what was top of the charts in the Summer of 2002 (I did anyway as I’m a professional). As England take their exciting squad of young talent to Japan and South Korea, Elvis is very much back in fashion with the remix of A Little Less Conversation. Fucking tune.

I’ve felt this way every single season since our FA Cup win, but I am genuinely pretty concerned about the level of expectation now on Everton’s shoulders. Play entertaining, attacking, high tempo football – Fuck yeah! Bring through youth players – Nailing it! Work within wage budget – Of course. Challenge for the Premiership title – Makes sense. Reach the FA Cup Final – Ok, well wait a… Reach the Champions League Final – As well as all this other shit?? Come on, Philip! How am I going to compete on all these fronts? That fixture list is going to be all kinds of congested and we’re notoriously precarious with injury problems in the second half of the season, although hopefully that will be lessened after a full season of our slightly more laid back playing style. Still though, 2 finals and a title challenge is a pretty tall order. It’s certainly possible but I wouldn’t want to stake my fucking job on it.

Maybe I’m just getting overly anxious. It’s a lovable quirk of mine. The running theme of reminding myself not to over-analyse or overthink things in FAJS comes from an extremely real place. I know what might make me a bit more confident – Defensive reinforcements. I’ve made a couple of early signings.

Right back was an area we definitely needed to strengthen this window. Not only do I expect Abel Xavier to be out until at least October with his wonky cruciate, but he’s also turning 30 this season and I doubt he’s going to be able to be the physical specimen he was on his return. I’ve brought in Maicon for under £7M from Cruzeiro and he looks a prospect. Solid enough across the board and loads of potential still to tap into.

We did a double deal with Cruzeiro – Maxwell is a Brazilian international, already better than either of my left backs and can also still grow considerably at 20 years old. For a combined £13.25M, I’m more than happy with this pair.

We’ve also had our first “youth intake” signings since Wayne Rooney. First up is the player who was touted as the second coming after Wazza’s departure to United, James Vaughan.

Admittedly he doesn’t look great, but after Wayne I’m positive I can drag that potential up to at least 4 stars. IRL James suffered from chronic injury problems and we’ll need to make sure the same fate doesn’t befall him this time. We’ve also brought in David Moyes’ best friend Victor Anichebe.

Why do none of these kids have the strength that they actually had? Victor should already be able to bench press me. Weird quirk of the database probably, but like with James, I’m sure he can be a player for us. I’m going to train him on the right wing so that he can be a versatile wide player for us in future. He also had a rough time with injuries IRL, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the fitness of both of these players.

So, who’s our first team now? Let’s discuss. In fact fuck it, I’m going to just show you the whole squad I intend to work with.

Petr Cech’s in goal and he’s staying there. Obvious, that one. I’ll be keeping both Steve Simonsen and Paul Gerrard around as backup this year in an attempt to avoid having to use 16 year olds again.

Juliano Beletti is still my main man at right back, but as always I’ll be heavily rotating my full backs so he’ll share the load with his compatriot Maicon. I think I’ll probably try to sell Abel Xavier in January or next Summer if someone will buy him. He’s on a contract for another 3 years but I think this injury’s ended his spell at Everton. I know I took the piss in FAJS, but for what it’s worth, he’s been great for me in this save.

My centre back pairing is another obvious one. Rio’s a defensive marvel and Davie boy will stay in my team for as long as possible. Not only because I like him, but because he’s a fine defender, a great leader and an even better penalty taker. He’s scored 22/24 from the spot over these 3 years. With a heavy heart though, I am taking the captaincy from him. My coach Dave Watson reckons that we’ve got better options and frankly I agree. Rio will still be vice captain and Richard Dunne and David Weir will still be excellent backups.

Maxwell’s now my first choice, which leaves me with a dilemma in who I want to rotate him with. Ball and Arruabarrena have both been great for us but I don’t need 3 left backs and they’re both being monitored by other clubs. Ball’s drawing interest from Newcastle and Arruabarrena’s wanted by both Madrid teams. I’m leaning towards keeping Ball purely because he’s younger, can still get a bit better and because he’s a local lad. I’m not 100% though.

Midfield’s pretty cut and dry. Gattuso and Nakata start, Gemmill and Pembridge are their backups. To be honest I wouldn’t mind adding a third quality midfielder to the mix if we can make money to cover it through player sales. My scouts have thrown me a couple of interesting options to take a look at and it’d be handy for rotation to have another great player who can cover either role. I’d be sad to see one of our old boys be ousted though as they’ve really been great for us.

You already know Aimar’s my first choice right winger. I was really impressed with Fabián Zapata last season too, so I’m going to keep him around this year. I was planning on sending him on loan, but he’ll get plenty of game time here if we’re challenging for 3 competitions.

Juan Roman Riquelme’s still the main man on the left wing and Nicky Barmby is his able understudy. I think we’re at the point in the save now where you can stop amending that statement when I talk about Nick. He’s solid as anything and always up there in terms of both goals and assists, even as a second string winger. In real life though he can still definitely fuck right off.

Up front we’re all set. We have 3 really excellent and (for the most part) consistent strikers in Tomasz Radzinski, new club captain Christian Vieri and Franny Jeffers, while Super Kev is a more than able 4th choice. Wayne Rooney will be in the mix too as we continue his impressive development. He’ll play anywhere I can fit him in when I’m short on numbers, then I’ll probably be looking to loan him out next season.

That’s all for now, then. Bournemouth and Stoke, we barely knew ye. Charlton, I’m sorry that on the final day we relegated ye. Welcome back, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday and Watford.

2nd September 2002

All good so far, boys.

I’m going to dive into transfers straight away because… Well… Shit got cray. We’ll start with the low key one – We brought in Sadettin Sanli from Galatasaray on a free transfer after his contract expired. He looks a good little prospect in central midfield and I’ve loaned him back out to Turkey to get some games under his belt.

Next up was our left back problem – I decided to cash in on Arruabarrena, who left for Real Madrid for almost £15M. He was actually worth closer to £17M but clubs in this database seem to be extremely stingy with their transfer bids and I decided that this was the most we’ll get. We still made £13M profit on the lad, so I’ll call that good business.

Then I went out to sign a versatile central midfielder of the highest quality – Frank Lampard Jr fitted the bill perfectly. £20M seemed fair enough to me and West Ham seemed perfectly happy with it too for some reason.

So I was happy to call it a day there, but then we got a couple of bids in for Nakata and Belletti and the 2 players got itchy feet. I was more ready to let Nakata go than Belletti, but I’d spotted a replacement central midfielder that I’d set my heart on and to afford their fee, I’d need to sell both. So that’s what I did. Nakata to Barcelona…

Belletti to Arsenal…

And Beckham to Everton.

The pair of them brought in in excess of £41M and I really went all out reinforcing our midfield. We’ve smashed the record transfer fees for an English player and for an English club and Beckham is going to add mouth watering quality to our team. Vieri already has his favoured no.7 shirt, but lucky for Becks, Lee Carsley’s coveted no.26 shirt is available.

This does mean that we might face problems at right back as I haven’t replaced Belletti, but I’ve made a calculated risk with that. Until Xavier’s fit, we’ll be rotating Maicon with Richard Dunne, David Weir and James Biggins, a signing from my first season who’s already made 11 appearances for the club aged 17. In real life it looks like he made 1 league cup appearance for Forest, had a nightmare with injuries and then retired aged 19, so maybe that’s not a great sign, but for now he’ll be alright.

We may have another worrying transfer saga to come – Having secured my central midfielder, Bryan Robson now seems set on unsettling my right winger. If he comes near Pablo Aimar though, I’m going to have some choice words for him. I’ve offered him a lucrative new deal that would make him our highest paid player on £75k per week, so hopefully that puts an end to this rumour.

Anyway, I almost forgot to mention that we’ve won our first bit of silverware of the season! I thought the Charity Shield would be fairly close between us and Leeds, but they certainly did us a favour by going down to 9 men and completely capitulating. In the end we took a comfortable 3-0 win. We’ve yet to be challenged in the Premiership in any way and we might be in a position to build up some serious form from the look of our fixture list, so fingers crossed.

1st January 2003

The league title’s going to be a toughie this year, eh?

After we won by such a massive margin last year I was expecting defending the league title to be a bit of a cakewalk this season, but as it turns out… Nah. Manchester United and Leeds are both really gunning for it. We did beat United back in October in a hard fought match and then suffered an incredibly unfortunate loss to Leeds, which included 2 disallowed goals and 3 hits of their woodwork. We’re still within touching distance of the top spot though and should we catch up, our incredible goal difference will come in really handy. We’ve scored a lot of goals this season but a personal highlight was our home match against almost certainly relegated Tottenham, who we thumped 13-1, with Vieri bagging a double hat trick.

So the league’s a work in progress but the other competitions are going really really well. We’ve got a chance, however slim, at the quintuple!

Roma kept us at bay in the Champions League group stage by taking 5 points off us, but in the domestic cups it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far. We battered Leeds out of the Worthington Cup and you’d assume that if we make it past First Division Norwich in the Semi, we’ll play Liverpool, who play Watford in the other Semi, in the Final. That could go either way but I’m pretty hopeful of maybe doing a treble? I have faith that we’ll wind up on top of the league, the charity shield’s in the bag and if we can snag a domestic cup, that’d be a successful season in my book.

We’ve had a significant number of injuries in the first half of the season. Maicon has been particularly annoying as I thought he was going to be my only senior right back while Xavier was injured, but we’re still yet to get Maicon fully fit since his transfer. He’s missed 3 months since late August and when he hasn’t been injured we’ve been trying to get him up to speed with cameo appearances here and there. Luckily both he and Xavier are pretty much back to fitness now, so we have decent options. Typically though, Michael Ball’s just been ruled out for 3 months so we now have a left back problem.

I think it’s going to be a pretty quiet January on the transfer front so nothing to report there, although I have decided to let Scot Gemmill, Kevin Campbell, Peter Clarke and possibly Mark Pembridge leave in the Summer. Gemmill’s surplus to requirements, Campbell’s way down the pecking order and with Vieri and Radzinski hovering around 30 I think it best that we either buy a younger striker or introduce somebody like Rooney into our second string. Pembridge is useful but if I can bring in another younger midfielder I will and Clarke is nowhere near the standard we need.

One inbound transfer I am trying to sort is Fiorentina’s versatile defensive veteran Moreno Torricelli, who could provide us with cover at either full back spot, central defence and central midfield. His contract’s expiring and I’m going up against Leeds for his signature. Although he’s 32, his pace is still really good so I’ve offered him a 1 year deal to join the Toffees.

Tomasz Radzinski’s shockingly not our top scorer at the minute, which is something that hasn’t happened in about 3 years. Thanks to that Spurs match, Vieri’s way out ahead of him on 24 goals from 25 games. Aimar’s still putting in all his good work despite near-constant niggling injuries, so our stats are looking very good on the whole.

Fast forward to…

1st February 2003

We’ve hit our first patch of bumpy form in quite a while.

To be fair I have to take the blame, but I have no regrets. We’ve got a large squad now and throughout January we’ve been rotating heavily to keep everybody match fit. As a result, we’ve won our cup ties against weaker opposition but we’ve drawn 2 and lost 1 in the league. We should’ve picked up at least 7 points, really.

And as you can see, Maxwell wasn’t too far behind Ball in the injury queue. He’s fit again now luckily, but once we saw off an absolute tonne of competition for Torricelli from the likes of Liverpool, Leeds and both Milans, I decided to shell out the £4M to bring him in immediately. It may seem a lot for a now 33 year old with 6 months on his contract, but I don’t want another season to end with crocked first teamers and beleaguered squad players. I figure with so many players lacking fitness since the short break in December, I can either keep playing my first choice XI to get some results on the ball and crock them in the process, or I can share the workload between the squad and hope that we’ll win the marathon as oppose to the sprint by keeping everyone fit.

As Moreno comes in, we say a fond farewell to Super Kev, who’s gone to Torino on a free. 53 goals and 30 assists in 111 appearances since he joined us permanently in 1999 is not bad at all. Kev will be replaced by Wayne Rooney in my second string.

Peter Clarke’s gone too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mustapha Riga’s back at Finch Farm after a thoroughly frustratingly loan spell with Standard Liege. He played twice from Summer to January, which is fewer appearances than phone calls made by me to their manager demanding he play more. Mustapha’s stagnated a bit lately and is definitely now a 3rd choice winger on both sides behind Aimar, Riquelme, Zapata and Barmby, but his versatility will help with the aforementioned plan to keep everyone fit as he can rotate in on either flank.

And finally, Mark Pembridge has agreed to join Krasnodar in the Summer. 19 goals and 31 assists in 119 appearances for the Blues. Not too shabby, mate. He’s been good for us – Capable in either central midfield role or on the left and at 32 he’s only just starting to let his decent physical attributes slide, so it’s probably the right time to say goodbye.

It’s also worth noting that our run-in is looking far more challenging than it did a month ago. United and Leeds are flying in the league, we’ve drawn a tough group in the Champions League in which we’ll be playing fucking Inter again, we have United in the FA Cup and as predicted, Liverpool in the Worthington Cup Final. Wish us luck, I’m gunna go do all this real quick.

13th May 2003

We didn’t win the marathon.

I’m disappointed to be honest. We narrowed the gap slightly, but we’ve dropped so many unnecessary points in the league this season and it’s really cost us. I’d say my main point of failure has been against the 2 sides that finished above us.

We only dropped points twice in the League since February and both matches were in March – We lost 4-2 at Villa Park and 5-3 at Old Trafford. Against Villa I played a reserve team as fitness was becoming a worry for my first team, so fair enough. United really hurt though.

We lead, they equalised, we lead, they equalised, we lead, they equalised, they lead, we went all out for an equaliser and they scored again. In an even match, we deserved more, but it wasn’t to be. I’d say this match probably sealed our fate. We won every single match after it but United stayed just out of reach, as did Leeds.

We also crashed out of the FA Cup in the 5th round in another equal game against United which they won 3-1.

Then to rub salt in the wound, Leeds sent us packing in the Champions League quarters. Again, no excuses, no complaints, just more good performances that didn’t yield matching results.

On the positive side, we did manage to win our first ever League Cup to complete a prestigious and completely legitimate double. Better yet, we beat Liverpool in another final.

But it feels pretty hollow. United and Leeds have beaten us in every competition we cared about. Something that really leaps out at me about the matches against them in particular is that we aren’t finishing our chances. I’m not sure why as I’ve gone out of my way to sign big game players, but maybe bringing another striker into the rotation would be a good idea for the Summer. Radzinski and Jeffers have both had droughts this season, although Radzinski in particular still finished with a very strong goals tally. Speaking of which…

Christian Vieri’s Everton’s new record Premier League era goalscorer, racking up 38 goals in all competitions and eclipsing previous record holder Tomasz Radzinski. Unsworth scored more than he has any right to once again, Jeffers was bang average but it is pleasing to see Pablo Aimar’s goal tally creeping up season by season.

But speaking of the lad, he’s actually had his weakest season yet from a creativity point of view. He matched last year’s assist total of 22, but did it in 40 appearances instead of 27. He’s still been a big player but I’d like to see this number back in the mid-late twenties next season. Lampard got a good number of assists in his debut season, while record signing David Beckham has been disappointing in terms of both goals and assists, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s still adjusting to life in Merseyside.

And that’s that, I believe. Another season down and honestly it’s probably been the most underwhelming one yet. I’d like another striker and possibly a midfielder in for next year as we’re going to go all out to win at least the Premier League/Champions League double. See you then.

Beautiful Music (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 3)

3rd July 2001

Breaking news – “Angel” by Shaggy feat Rayvon is down to number 2 in the UK charts, replaced at the top by “Lady Marmalade”, which as far as I can tell was written by every single early 2000’s female artist. I know that it hurts. Shaggy is very important to all of us after all, but maybe we can take our mind off it with some football.

Our Chairman Philip Carter keeps raising the stakes, you know. He asked for top half, we gave him Europe. He asked for top 5, we came 3rd. Now he’s asking for top 4, which… Well I guess it’s not technically raising the stakes, but I appreciate him pushing us. He’s our muse in that regard. He also wants an FA Cup Semi, which should be fine and a place in the Second Phase Group Stage in the Champions League, which could be trickier. Overall though, I’m confident of winning something this year so even in the worst case scenario, some silverware should drag us through to a satisfactory end of year report.

Let’s get straight down to it then. We want more quality in this Summer, so let’s work out where. I’m extremely happy on the whole with how our first team’s shaping up, but there’s still room for improvement.

In goal, Petr Cech’s coming along very nicely with a full season of Premier League football under his belt. If I’m honest I’ve grappled with whether to sign Gianluigi Buffon this Summer, but I decided there were more far pressing issues within the team when Cech still has so much improving to do. Our transfer budget is currently £15M and Buffon would’ve cost £10M. I’m second guessing myself now that Liverpool have snapped him up, but oh well. I’m sure Petr will repay my faith. Also, who gives a goalkeeper the number 17 shirt? Liverpool boss José Mourinho, that’s who.

The right back position is still a bit of a coin flip between Juliano Beletti and Abel Xavier and I’ll probably continue to play whoever suits each match better. Would I like an upgrade here? Sure, but again, it’s not on the agenda for this transfer window. I’m perfectly content with these two.

A bit of a headache is starting to form in the centre of our defence, however. We now have 3 first team centre backs and while the combination of Richard Dunne and Captain David Unsworth is solid, I feel like we could use an injection of quality here to bring our defence to the next level. We scored a lot of goals last season but conceded a lot too. This is probably mainly the gung-ho tactics I’m persisting with, yes, but I’d love a standout centre back to plug some of our leaks.

Much like on the right, I’m perfectly happy with Michael Ball and Rodolfo Arruabarrena on the left of our defence. Rodolfo’s solid and Michael’s still got a lot of potential to fulfil. They’ll be rotating pretty heavily.

I’m curious to see how our new central midfield partnership develops – Gennaro Gattuso had a really solid season last year as the powerhouse in the centre of the park, but he’ll be joined this year by Hidetoshi Nakata, who brings with him bags and bags of technique and skill.

I’m never upgrading our right wing. Pablo Aimar is the dream – More creative, more skilful and faster than almost anyone we’ll face.

On the left, I’m still intrigued to see what happens when Riquelme gets fully settled. He’s nowhere near as quick as Aimar, but he’s also incredibly skilful and creative. His first half-season with us wasn’t glamourous, but it was solid and I’m hoping to see bigger and better things this campaign.

And up front of course we have Tomasz Radzinski and Franny Jeffers. If Radzinski goes in a big money deal I’ll have to rethink this, but at the minute I think I’d like an upgrade on Jeffers. Even as one of the first names on the teamsheet every week for 2 years, his progression has been disappointingly slow. He’s still not been picked for England and can only watch on with envy as Unsworth, Ball and Barmby join up with the 3 Lions. Personally though I blame Kevin Keegan for that. He scored 22 goals last season, Kev, what are you doing? Either way, he’ll still be heavily involved this season, even if it’s as a part of my second string.

That’s about it for now then. Man City have plunged straight back into the first division with Derby and Coventry, while Sunderland have bounced straight back up to the big time with Stoke and Bournemouth, 2 sides that are way ahead of schedule.

3rd September 2001

Alright, can’t complain about how this one’s started. 5 games in, 4 games won and we’re 3rd place in the League behind United and… Bradford? Wow.

I’m going to shake up the extremely new formula that these episodes seem to be following by showing you my transfers straight away, because fuck me did we add some quality.

First in was my defensive reinforcement – London lad Rio Gavin Ferdinand. £25M was very steep, I’ll admit, and I usually prefer to keep my club as debt-free as possible by only buying players with cash outright, but this Summer I’ve made a couple of exceptions as I feel that this quality injection is key to maintaining our momentum. My board even tried to step in and cancel the deal at one point, but even they eventually admitted that this lad is worth the investment.

And I did also succeed in bringing in an upgrade for Jeffers up front. “Who was it?” you ask. “Another former Evertonian? The return of Big Dunc? A solid and proven goalscorer with room to grow?” Well… No. One thing I noticed about Inter Milan this summer is that they had an abundance of strikers. Ronaldo, Javier Saviola and Álvaro Recoba is all the quality you need in that area, so to my absolute delight, they agreed to sell me their 4th choice striker.

Fuck me running, we got Christian Vieri. The same Vieri who’s scored 73 goals and registered 12 assists for Inter since the inception of this save. The same Vieri who’s been awarded 32 Player of the match awards over the same period. The same Vieri who just this calendar year has won all of these accolades (And quite a few that wouldn’t fit on the screen):

The Champions League Golden Boot! The Best Player in Europe! 39 goals in a season! How the fuck have they let him go for £12M??? Like with Rio, I’ve had to stagger the payments over the next few years, but I’m so excited to have him in. Just look at this and let’s drool together for a few seconds:

Oh that reminds me, Aimar’s just broken his toe and is out for a couple of months, which is a shame, but once this quartet eventually starts playing their beautiful music together, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

In retrospect I should’ve let Myhre go for £4M last Summer as this year when I did want rid of him, I could only get £3.5M. Oh well. He and Carsley were both surplus to requirements, so they’ve left and I wish them luck.

Anyway let’s finally talk about our matches so far.

We started promisingly – The reserves beat Gent over 2 legs and we saw off newly promoted Stoke at their place in a match that included a debut goal from Vieri, but then… Anfield.

I don’t know if José said something at half time or if he pumped them full of that stuff from Space Jam… But the football version. This is back in the day when his shtick wasn’t so played out, so maybe he genuinely just encouraged them to perform at a level they never knew they had, like when you hear about mothers lifting a car to save their kids. In short though, we got absolutely battered. On the plus side, Nakata’s first goal for the club was a beauty – He ran the length of the pitch and battered the ball into top bins from 30 yards. In other circumstances, do that for Everton at Anfield and you’re an instant club legend, but I think everyone would probably rather just forget this one.

Luckily Vieri and Dunne helped us get straight back on the horse against Leeds the next game and we’re now successfully back in form, having mullered Newcastle and Charlton.

1st January 2002

Sooo… I don’t know if the last piece of the puzzle was Rio or Christian or a combination of both, but we’ve definitely broken this database at this point.

There is no fucking way that this should be possible. Right? It never happens to me at least. Wanna see the Champions League group?

What is going on? A particular highlight for me was the time that the home leg against Inter coincided with an international break, so aside from the odd player we were both playing reserve teams. Ours turned out to be quite a bit better.

Come with me on this trail of thought – Obviously I’m still sceptical that this form will keep going. Second half of the season syndrome is strong with this team, so we could still drop out of every competition like a stone. BUT I’m now thinking that the point of this save has changed. I’ve gone from apathy to curiosity over these 2 and a half years. I reckon we won every competition for the next 10 years when we signed Pablo Aimar and our other dirt cheap global all stars. Some of them genuinely seem to be game breaking. So now I’m wondering… Just how broken can we really be? How ridiculously overpowered can I make this club? First things first, I think we need to tweak our primary formation. Probably keep the 4-2-4, or possibly swap to a flat 4-3-3. I want something that’s still intense but doesn’t kill us from March onwards. I also want a more conservative system to play against the big lads away from home. I’m going to have a play with that over January.

To be honest there’s not much more to tell you at this point. I’ve tied Weir, Pembridge and Gerrard to new 1 year deals as they’re all solid enough backup players and they were due to leave in the Summer.

That’s it, though. Onwards to… Probably victory, right? You’d think.

14th May 2002

Yup. That’s victory, alright. Insane, record breaking victory.

Let me start with our system. I experimented with it a little in January, especially with our strategy for away matches against tough teams, which always seem to be a lottery for us. We have the potential to either batter or to be battered but there’s generally not much middle ground. Fortunately enough we had a run of 3 away games against Leeds, Arsenal and United for me to experiment.

Against Leeds I used a very basic and conservative 4-3-3, hoping to draw the home team in and hit them with devastatingly quick counter attacks. It didn’t work very well at all and they battered us through the first half. We did get better in the second half when we switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Nakata in the hole, but we finished with a fairly even 1-1 draw.

Against Arsenal we went 4-2-3-1 from the off but again, we struggled for large portions of the game. With a quarter of an hour to go we were trailing 1-2 and I brought Zapata onto the right wing, shifting Aimar into the hole as an advanced playmaker, as oppose to the attacking midfielder role Nakata had been playing. Vieri also became a complete forward. BANG! We tore through the Gunners’ defence, scoring 4 late goals. “Eureka!” I cried, swivelling in my squeaky office chair. “I’ve fucking cracked it!” United were next in the FA Cup and I was about to unleash this new system upon them with a second playmaker in the hole from the start. I’d like to know how they planned on stopping that.

4 words: Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Bollocks.

So it’s a bit anticlimactic but in the end I made the decision to just play the lottery and use my 4-2-4 away from home. I have altered our primary system to be slightly less draining on the players – Press a tiny bit easier, play a tiny bit slower etc. I’d also somehow not put us on “Be more expressive” all this time that we’ve had Aimar, Riquelme and co either, so that’s now on too.

We’ve had a bit of a weird spell with injuries. At the end of last season we got hit all over the park with various muscle injuries and I reasoned that it was my tactics, so the change to a less intense style since Christmas definitely seems to have helped, however we have still been hit pretty badly in concentrated areas. All 4 of my full backs have had a rough time for example, with Arruabarrena and Xavier being particularly unlucky. Arruabarrena is just back in full training in time for the Summer after missing 3 months, while Xavier’s 2 months into a damaged cruciate that could keep him out until Christmas. Ball and Beletti have luckily only had little niggles here and there. Richard Dunne (Torn abdominal muscle) has struggled for a few months too, which has made our defensive depth paper thin. The most worrying injury area thankfully came when we already had the title wrapped up. Petr Cech ended up with a hernia and so excited was Paul Gerrard to finally step onto the pitch, he pulled his groin and I had to stick 16 year old Joel Edmondson in net for the last game. As I say, we had nothing to play for at that point anyway, but I am baffled how the injuries have been so concentrated in certain areas.

Anyway, how did we do? Obviously you already know some of the story by now. We ran away with the league title, setting records for number of points, number of goals, lowest number of defeats, highest number of wins and probably some others that I’m forgetting. Considering some of the defensive crises we’ve had, I’m really pleased that we managed to keep our good league form going until the very end.

Our reserves were dumped out of the League Cup by Second Division side Wigan in September, which I forgot to mention in January. I’ve no regrets though, it was just one of those games – Disallowed goal, hit the post, concede 2 goals from 3 shots on target. You know the type. I think I’m actually yet to win a League Cup game 3 years into this save and that’s something I’d quite like to rectify next season.

I’ve showed you United dumping us out of the FA Cup, but the real story was in our spectacular Champions League exit. We were dealt what looked like a pretty strong group for the 2nd phase, but it turned out to be straightforward enough.

And then we went to the quarter finals against Inter. “Inter?” you cry, “The jokes that you wiped the floor with in the first group stage by an aggregate score of 13-2?” The very same. Only they were different now. I don’t know if they were in bad form or just didn’t take those first matches seriously, but in the quarters, we got the Inter I had expected the first time around and they were a fucking nightmare.

The home leg was the first day that I’ve ever been unhappy with David Unsworth. My Captain. Genuinely my favourite player at around this time in real life as he too was a left back and he too probably started playing there because he was left footed and not very good on the ball. When Simic hacked down Vieri in the box, Davie smacked in the opening goal from the spot, but Ronaldo equalised after 20 minutes. The game was on a knife edge coming up to half time and then in stoppage time, the England International went in 2 footed on Luigi Di Biagio. You can see what happened in the second half for yourself. I was gutted. 4 away goals against us and I was now without Xavier, Arruabarrena, Dunne and captain Unsworth for the second leg. The defence that had been paper thin was now spiderweb thin.

In all fairness, the fightback in Milan was beautiful. We gave absolutely everything and in the 83rd minute we were winning 5-3. We just needed 1 more goal to take us through on away goals… But Fiore scored for the hosts. A Radzinski penalty gave us hope once more, but then Zamorano put us to bed. It ended 6-5 (7-9 on aggregate) and our Champions League dream was over, but fuck me we went out fighting.

Our top scorer once again was Tomasz Radzinski with 35 goals from 37 games. He didn’t quite manage to equal last year’s total of 36, but having played 5 fewer matches he actually comes away with his best goals per game ratio yet. Vieri and Unsworth both put in extremely strong showings, although 21 goals from a centre back is just bizarre. Special mention to Nick Barmby, who scored 14 goals even though he was our 2nd choice left winger. Not bad……. We also had so many different goalscorers this season that they just barely fit on 1 page of my squad list, which is pretty nice to see. It’s also worth mentioning that Nakata’s incredible effort against Liverpool in August won the Premiership goal of the Season award.

Aimar is in a similar situation to Radzinski – 22 assists this season, which is 3 fewer than his debut campaign, but he scored 2 more goals and thanks to a few injuries, played 9 fewer times, so per game he’s had a great year. How dare Radzinski be 1st for goals and 2nd for assists? The man’s a machine. Vieri’s been extremely good too in terms of both goals and assists and I’m really happy with his debut season.

So where on Earth does all of this leave us? This season has been extremely confusing for me. At first I thought we were genuinely broken and would just wipe the floor with anyone we came across, but I no longer think that’s the case, for obvious reasons. I do think that we’re a very, very good team. Comfortably the best side in England, although wins against the big English teams, especially away from home, are still nowhere near guaranteed.

I also thought that our ultra rapid improvement through the hoovering up of young stars for next to no money was a sustainable strategy, but I was being naive. Most of those stars seem to have moved now (If you were wondering, CR7 and Messi haven’t and are still available for under £10M, but I’m a man of principles and my scouts still haven’t recommended them to me), so that transfer strategy is pretty much dead. We can still pick up cheap regens, but they’re nowhere near as good as the likes of Aimar. Prices for the best players are climbing rapidly and it’s going to get harder and harder to bring in that World Class quality, especially as Premier League clubs in 2002 are making nowhere near as much as their 2020 counterparts.

Luckily, I think my first team is pretty much complete, so we might not need to do all that much in this Summer’s transfer window. I’m definitely concerned about right back, but I’ll think more about that next episode. For now, we get to kick back in our open top bus, blast some Shaggy out of the tape deck, pop open a bottle of cheap bubbly and enjoy our victory lap of Liverpool. Cheers.


Ahead of Schedule (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 2)

4th July 2000

It is the first Summer of the new Millennium and Eminem is top of the UK Charts with The Real Slim Shady, a song that references Will Smith’s rap career, Christina Aguilera, The Bloodhound Gang, MTV and Britney Spears. There is probably no greater time capsule of a song for the late 90’s/ early 2000’s and more importantly it’s my fucking jam, so let’s just revel in that for a second before we have to start talking about ball kicking and what have you.

I wasn’t expecting the first season to go as well as it did. I was expecting we’d get a safe top half finish and a decent cup run and then aim for Europe this year. With our first piece of silverware in the bag and our place in the UEFA Cup secured though, we’re ahead of schedule and can really think about building some momentum towards the champions league places.

I’ve realised a couple of things playing this retro database: Firstly, whoever did the scouting for Champ Man back in the day was a generous type and dealt out 20 ratings like they were going out of fashion. Secondly, I’ve heard so many times that the standard of the Premier League is going down in recent years, but I genuinely think that it’s currently much, much higher than it was in 1999. To be fair, in my opinion the Premier League standard probably peaked in the mid to late noughties, so maybe both viewpoints are true. Nevertheless, there are quite a few teams in this division that we absolutely mullered last year and I think if we can add some more quality into our side, we can quite easily finish higher than 7th as long as we keep beating the teams we should be beating.

So before pre-season even started, I added more quality to our squad. The right wing was a bit of a tricky position for us last season, with Danny Cadamarteri, Joe Max Moore and Mustapha Riga all giving it a shot, but I wasn’t bowled over with any of them. I’ve decided to keep Moore and Cadamarteri around this season while Riga goes on loan to West Brom for regular game time, but my first choice winger will be this lad.

I felt a bit dirty signing Pablo Aimar. I’m well aware of how broken he used to be in the old Championship Manager games and so I obviously used to sign him every time. I didn’t want to use that kind of knowledge to get ahead in this save, but like every player I’ve found so far, my scouts recommended him to me! I didn’t seek him out… So I’m probably fine… Anyway, Pablo can’t play right wing at the minute, but we’ll soon fix that with some training and game time. He’s got all the attributes, he just needs to get used to it. At £1.6M, I’ve robbed River Plate blind.

I’ll be sticking primarily with the same 4-2-4 that served us so well last season and my first choice starting XI to begin with will be as follows:

Thomas Myhre is the natural choice for number 1 goalkeeper after a solid season, but he’s currently all mardy because I didn’t let him go to Chelsea for £4M, so he can sit and think about what he’s done for a bit. Czech international Petr Cech has all the potential in the World and will start the season for us if he looks ready during the friendlies. I’ll be letting England U21 keeper Steve Simonsen leave on loan and Paul Gerrard will stick around behind Myhre to be 3rd choice.

At right back, I’d really quite like an upgrade on Abel Xavier, but I’ve been searching since January and so far have come up blank. As it stands he’s still in, with David Weir his lanky understudy.

It’s probably as good a time as any to mention that club captain Dave Watson has retired. As predicted, I didn’t really play him much last season, as we had way too many options at centre back and they could all run the length of the penalty area within a lunar cycle. Last year’s starter Richard Gough is calling it a day at the end of this season and as he’s declining, I’ve decided to promote young Richard Dunne to the first team on the back of his successful loan spell at Sunderland. He’ll partner new club captain David Unsworth in the heart of our defence.

At left back, it’s a really close contest between Michael Ball and Rodolfo Arruabarrena, but the latter gets my vote. In all honesty they’ll probably share the position pretty evenly anyway.

In midfield we’re as we were with Gemmill and Collins. I’ve got an eye out for an upgrade on either of them, although Collins is the more pressing issue. He’s starting to decline at 32, whereas Scot’s got a few more good years in him yet. Don’t get me wrong though, these 2 were solid last season. It’s a shame they’re hovering around 30.

Pablo Aimar we’ve covered…

Nick Barmby’s still a fine choice on the left wing…………. Excellent, I knew I could count on you to remember.

And our front 2 remains Radzinski and Jeffers, with Super Kev rotating in often. Incidentally, it saddens me that Radzinski isn’t included in the face pack that comes with this database. He looked like a chinchilla with David Brent’s beard, it was remarkable.

I’m in the process of closing some more deals at the minute. As well as Myhre, Don Hutchison and Slavan Bilic both also confessed to me that they’d like to leave this Summer, which I didn’t really have a problem with. I was more annoyed about Don, as I’ve spent all year converting him from an attacking midfielder to a box to boxer, but Bilic seemed to cause some sort of defensive calamity every time he played, so good riddance.

I’m also trying to prise Giovanni van Bronckhorst away from Rangers while simultaneously not letting them sign my 15 year old left back Leighton Baines, but the likes of Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid are also circling the Dutch international, so I don’t fancy my chances. An upgrade on Scot Gemmill would be nice if I can swing it, but if not, I’m perfectly happy to keep him in midfield.

I never mentioned the board’s expectations last year, so I’ll do it now. We were expected to play entertaining football, bring through youth players and finish in the top half of the league, which is pretty reasonable and which we did. This season however, we’ve really ramped up expectations. We’re expected to finish in the top 5 of the Prem, reach the quarter finals of both domestic cups and the semi final of the UEFA Cup. No pressure then.

It’s also worth mentioning before we move on that Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Watford have been relegated from the Prem and have been replaced by Blackburn, Charlton and Manchester City from the First Division.

5th September 2000

We’ve had a pretty good start to the season. Not incredible, but not bad at all. We lost the Charity Shield to a late Ole Gunnar Solskjaer penalty but didn’t disgrace ourselves, before losing 3-2 again in our opening Premiership match, this time away at Arsenal (Who’s scheduling these fixtures, by the way?). We lead twice, got pegged back twice and let in a winner late on. Oh well. We’ve drawn twice against Blackburn and Villa, with Aimar opening his account for us in the former, annihilated Newcastle, scraped past Derby and beat Coventry comfortably. As I say, not incredible, but certainly no cause for alarm. I mean, we’re sitting 9th, which is way below our expected 5th place finish, but that’s probably fine. Right?

We’ve sent a lot of young lads out on loan since last we spoke and we did also manage to flog Hutchison and Bilic for £13M combined, which is a nice bit of business. In fact it covers the record-breaking signing I’ve brought in all the way from Italy.

Allowed to move after Milan secured my previous target, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Gennaro Gattuso will be an excellent addition to our midfield if I say so myself. He’s 22 and has so far struggled to break onto the International scene, but in fairness to the lad, I probably couldn’t break into a midfield containing Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Luigi Di Biagio and Antonio Conte either. He’s a definite upgrade on Scot Gemmill and is exactly the kind of injection of quality we need, as is my other new signing.

Juliano Belletti, while not an out and out upgrade on Abel Xavier, offers us something different. He’s more of an attacking full back, while Xavier is more defensive. I’ve gone for this sort of approach before, most notably for Angrense in FAJS, and I have to say I really enjoy having this sort of flexibility in defence. It’s similar to what we have in the left back position, where Michael Ball is an excellent defender, but Arruabarrena (That’s the first time I’ve been able to spell that without checking it) is better going forwards.

That’s it for now, see you in 2001.

1st January 2001

Alright, nobody panic.

We’ve had sort of the opposite first half of the season to what we had in 1999/2000, where we started strong but fell away coming up to Christmas. This time, we had a pretty janky start but we’ve absolutely torn up the Premier League for the last few months. Shout out to Blackburn by the way – Just up from the First Division and they’re already trying to challenge for another Premiership title.

Since we last spoke, we’ve lost to Liverpool, Charlton and Tottenham away and Manchester United at home in the Premiership. We also got dumped out of the League Cup at home by Leeds at the first time of asking, but to be fair I played the reserves as our first team was knackered from thrashing them in the league a few days prior. Apart from that, we’ve been rampant. I’ve especially enjoyed December, where we’ve won 7 out of our 7 league games, including a trip to Old Trafford. In terms of the UEFA Cup, I’ve been mainly using reserve teams as we continue to focus on the league, but they’ve been getting the job done. A 6-1 aggregate win over Hajduk Split, including a first club goal for young Rooney, saw us through the first round and a 3-1 aggregate win over Nantes took us through the second.

Speaking of Wazza, we managed to bring his attributes up a bit and his potential was up to 4.5 stars before he even turned 15, so that’s promising. I’ve been throwing him in where I’ve been able to to get some experience.

The goals have been absolutely flooding in and I think it’s due to a combination of our now mouth-watering strike force (And yes, I include David Unsworth in that) and the addition of Pablo Aimar, who’s already almost completely accustomed to life on the right wing and has laid on a staggering 17 goals for his peers.

Tomasz Radzinski’s leading the way in terms of goals, with Franny Jeffers not far behind. Again, Campbell and Unsworth are pulling their weight and even Nick Barmby’s form has been worthy of praise………

Speaking of Nicky, there’s rumours that Tottenham are interested in making a big money bid for him, so watch this space on that one. It’d actually be quite handy if he did go, because today his replacement arrived.

Yes, why bring in 1 young Argentine star who’s played in the hole his entire short career and force him to shunt uncomfortably out to the wing when you can bring in 2 young Argentine stars who’ve played in the hole their entire short careers and force them to shunt uncomfortably out to the wings? #WelcomeRiquelme is trending on Ceefax right now to the utter bamboozlement of the general public and I’m fucking jazzed. I’ve raided Boca for one of their prize assets and given them precisely £1.4M for the second time in a year and Arruabarrena and Riquelme will be linking up on my left flank soon enough. He’s not the quickest and he’s actually stronger with his right foot than his left, but he’ll still be great. I have faith. Once he and Aimar are both fluent English speakers and are fully comfortable in their new roles, I can’t see us ever getting outscored again.

In terms of what I’m looking for next in the transfer market, a replacement for John Collins is now top of the list. He and Danny Cadamarteri are out of contract at the end of the season and I’ve not decided what to do with them yet. For John’s replacement I want someone skilful, but who can hold their own in the centre of midfield. A set piece specialist is preferred. I’ve offered a contract to Hidetoshi Nakata, who’s on loan with Chelsea until his Perugia contract expires in the Summer. I think he could do the job, but no doubt Chelsea will also be interested and would have the advantage as he knows the club. We’ll see how this goes.

I’m also in talks to bring this young Colombian goalie in for about £150k compensation. He looks like he’s got potential.

Meanwhile, we’re having a weird surge in injuries suffered by our promising kids who are out on loan. Riga’s done his hip and is out for up to 6 months, Huysegems is 3 months into a 9 month ligament injury and Osman’s out for 3 months with a fractured leg. They’ll all be coming home for treatment now that we’ve reached January.

Oh and also, Ken Bates and his choice hat offered me an interview for the Chelsea job, but without that sweet Oligarch money, who the fuck are Chelsea, amirite?

See ya in a month.

3rd February 2001

I feel like I’m cheating. Am I cheating? You can be honest. I know it’s a thoroughly explored meme at this point that signing young Argentines for next to no money is the dominant FM strategy, but this database has ramped that up to 11. Some of the players I’ve signed are so good and have cost me so little that it’s starting to feel like the equivalent of playing Oddjob in Goldeneye or picking Kassadin in that one early League of Legends patch. I don’t know, maybe this is just what Champ Man was like back in the day. Anyway, we’re still p3wning the majority of these n00bs.

United probably have too much of an advantage already for us to seriously mount a title challenge, but I genuinely think that if we can continue our ridiculous upwards trajectory in terms of quality, we can win the league next year. Be pretty embarrassing if I finished 7th again now, wouldn’t it.

We’ve had a solid January, smashing Doncaster and Huddersfield in the FA Cup and fairly comfortably seeing off Wimbledon, brave Blackburn and Arsenal in the League. It might be time to stop playing the reserves in the UEFA Cup though, because I sent them out against Fiorentina and we just barely scraped a home win. Old Franjo forgot about the likes of Francesco Toldo, Rui Costa, Gabriel Batistuta and Enrico Chiesa didn’t he, the silly moo. Luckily Joe Max Moore bailed us out in injury time and he’s actually in great form, so after a year and a half, I’m finally going to show our ‘murican contingent some love. He’s a really solid and versatile attacking squad player and I like him a lot.

A few more deals have been done, with the young Colombian keeper Rivera on his way, along with his compatriot Fabián Zapata. You might ask why we need yet another promising right winger. I don’t really have a better answer than “He’s costing us pittance, leave me alone.”

Nakata also chose us over Chelsea, which is excellent as he’ll be slotting straight into our midfield next season. I’ve let a few players go, like young Nicky Chadwick, who was way down the pecking order of promising young strikers, and a load more players have gone on loan, like Thomas Myhre and Lee Carsley, who I no longer have need of.

I’m off to go complete the season. Fingers crossed for a strong finish.

6th February 2001

The very first thing that happened after I wrote that nice little bit about J-Max was Shenzen offering almost £7M for him, which is too good an offer to turn down. In a bit, Joe.

Alright, now I’m actually going to finish the season.

19th May 2001

Well that was a fucking slog.

So obviously it’s been a really good season, but my god we’ve had it rough these last few months. Probably due to a combination of our high intensity playing style and a congested fixture list, the second half of our 2000/2001 season was crushed under an avalanche of injuries. Don’t get me wrong, most of them were minor – A few days here, a couple of weeks there, but they’ve all added up and a lot of them have come before crucial games. Scot Gemmill in particular has been a huge miss as we’ve not had him since February. We dealt with all this at first as our good form had made morale sky high and that carried us through, but once we slipped, we collapsed.

Throughout February and March we were electric, seeing off Fiorentina and Lazio in the UEFA Cup, knocking Bournemouth and Man U out of the FA Cup and winning every single match in the Premier League. The only match we lost was away at Lazio in the second leg, when they thrashed my reserve team 5-2, but our 6-0 lead from the first leg carried us through. In a jam packed April though, the injuries started coming thick and fast. We lost to Leeds and Hamburg, surrendering 2nd place in the Premiership and sneaking through on away goals respectively, beat Derby and then with an FA Cup Semi against Liverpool looming, I played the kids against West Ham and they tonked us. Then Liverpool also tonked us. All in all, it wasn’t worth it. Coventry held us at home – 2 disallowed goals and a missed penalty denied us the chance to end our awful form there, but then we did manage to get past Leeds over 2 legs in the UEFA Cup Semis. By May we were entirely ravaged. No fitness, no cohesion, no form. We did manage to beat Liverpool at Goodison to secure 3rd place and finish our league fixtures on a high note, but then Vitesse crept past us in the UEFA Cup Final.

You may notice certain absentees from the lineup. Our Argentine trio of Arruabarrena, Aimar and Riquelme were bewilderingly called up to play some pre-Confederations-Cup-pissing-international-friendlies just before the Liverpool game, so they missed our last 2 pivotal matches. Cheers for that, FIFA. It was still a fairly even game in terms of chances on paper though and I don’t really think we deserved to be beaten, in normal time at least. Mind you, if it had gone to extra time one of our broken and beaten number may have died, so maybe it’s for the best. We finish the season having failed to add to our trophy cabinet, but at least we gave it a fucking good go.

So now I’ve got all my moaning out of the way, let’s look at the positives from a season which, if you’d offered it me a year ago, I would’ve bitten your hand off for. Positive number 1 – Tomasz Radzinski.

42 appearances, 36 goals, 8 assists. Tomasz Radzinski is the Polish/Canadian Terminator. Without his goals we’d probably be mid-table, but he’s almost single-handedly dragged us up to third. He certainly dragged us through to that cold shower of a UEFA Cup Final. Somehow, even considering our South American contingent, he’s turned out to be the best bit of business I’ve done so far. Weirdly though, with clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, Atleti and Valencia circling, I’m considering letting him go if we get a silly-money bid. He’s 27 and I feel like in this database I could bring in someone just as good and younger for half of what he’d fetch. We’ll see. Jeffers also thumped in over 20 goals, although he suffered a drought towards the end of the season.

Positive number 2 – Pablo Aimar.

36 appearances, 6 goals, 25 assists. Pablo Aimar is the Argentinian… Who helps the Terminator? Does he have some kind of right hand man? I’ve never seen the films. Anyway, Aimar’s whoever that is. In an astonishing debut season, he’s become a natural right winger and put in some fantastic performances. He’s been our player of the season in my eyes. Below him, pretty much our entire team chipped in setting up goals, which was really pleasing, but special shout out to our left backs.

Positive number 3 – Our league position and general competence in competitions.

Runners up in the Charity Shield (Does that count?) and the UEFA Cup, Semi Finalists in the FA Cup and knocked out of the League Cup by Leeds, the 2nd best team in the country. Oh yeah, and we’ve qualified for the Champions League through our Premiership finish, outscoring every other team as we went. It has been a very good season, although annoyingly, just like last year, how we finished it has left a sour taste.

So… What now? I’ve got no more incoming transfers to tell you about, although I have decided to let Cadamarteri and Collins go. To tell you the truth though, I’m extremely excited to see where this Summer goes. We should have plenty of cash to splash and I want to keep this momentum going. More quality, more depth. We’re going to need it if we’re to seriously challenge on multiple fronts next season.

I do just want to finish on another update on Wazza actually. Over the space of a season he’s grown from a 3.5 star into a 5 star potential attacker and his attributes are now looking very good indeed. He’s not as strong or as tricky as his real life counterpart was at this point, but he’s turning into a player alright. Very promising.

Right, well that’s me done for another season. I don’t know about you, but I now cannot stop listening to Bloodhound Gang. While you’re all looking forward to the releases of Windows XP and the Nintendo Gamecube, I look forward to seeing you in 2001/2002.

A Clean Slate (Everton 1999/2000 – Season 1)

26th June 1999

The date is 26/06/1999. My older brother will turn 10 in just over a month. I won’t be 8 until August. Nevertheless, Walter Smith has kindly stepped aside from his duties as Everton manager so that I can take the reigns. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, as they say. I’m neither, but let’s not dwell.

After a wishy-washy 98/99 season in which the Toffees finished 14th in the FA Carling Premiership, the club have been struggling to stay on top of their mounting debts. The likes of Marco Materazzi, Olivier Dacourt, Ibrahima Bakayoko and (crushingly) Duncan Ferguson have been flogged to move the club into the black and erm… It seems to have worked! As detailed as this database is, the debts of every single club seem to have been wiped, which I’m not complaining about. For possibly the first time in my 20 year FM career, I’m starting with a debt-free Everton. We can’t make signings until January as I wanted to work with what I’ve got for the first few months and have disabled the first window, but after that we could be in a good position to strengthen.

There’s certainly talent in this squad, but more than that, there’s character. We ooze character. We’re choc full of hard workers, leaders and big game players and I like it. An example of all 3 is our captain, 37 year old centre back/coach Dave Watson. I don’t think we’ll play him all that often because even at 7 years old I could probably beat him in a 100m sprint, but he’s a hell of a man to have in the dressing room.

Tactically, I’m immediately thinking that we’re going to play some form of 4-4-2. This squad was built for 4-4-2 and it would be silly, at least to begin with, not to capitalise on that. I decide to plug in a 4-2-4 system that worked wonders for me on a previous save. It worked well with Barcelona and I worry that my much, much lower quality squad will struggle with it, but we may as well give it a go.

As far as my starting XI goes, this is what I’ve come up with:

In goal we have the one and only top class Scandinavian goalkeeper plying his trade in the late 90’s Premier League, Thomas Myhre.

At right back, a man who in another life appeared to me as a vision on top of a hill in the Azores Islands, Abel Xavier.

In the centre of our defence, the surprisingly pacy 37 year old nomadic Scotsman, Richard Gough, is partnered with the World’s greatest ever penalty taker, David Unsworth. Shame he only got that 1 England cap, really, isn’t it.

And on the left we have local lad and eventual raging homophobe, Michael Ball.

Our central midfield binds Scottish steel with Scottish silk. Scot Gemmill is one of those bustling midfielders I love so much and I look forward to watching him cover every blade of grass. John Collins is an expert set piece taker and is just generally a great footballer, although as a natural left midfielder, he’ll need coaxing into the centre.

Now we get onto the front 4, who are on the whole absolutely rapid. Danny Cadamarteri is my right winger, unfortunately not sporting the fantastic dreadlocks he had at the time.

On the left wing is the man who taught me to hate someone with all my heart, Nick Barmby. So that I don’t have to write it every time, every time I mention him I want you to append the phrase “But he can fuck right off” in your head. Let’s practice: Nick Barmby is a good and skilful winger………… Good job.

And finally up front we have my vice captain, Kevin “Super Kev” Campbell and Franny “Lol” Jeffers, 2 strikers that IRL will be remembered by Evertonians in extremely different ways.

I should probably mention, seeing as I’ve made my feelings about a few of these players pretty clear over the years, that everyone’s getting a clean slate for this save. Let bygones be bygones and let Nicky Barmby fuck right off. Had to get that in, but the clean slate starts now.

I think that’s everything covered. I also brought in a whole shit load of staff, including Glenn Hoddle as my assistant, but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s jump ahead to the New Year and see how we got on.

1st Jan 2000

Fuck me, we’re incredible.

We’re 5th in the Premier League, some way short of the top 4 and tied on points with Villa and West Ham, but still, we’ve far exceeded my expectations. The 4-2-4’s still going strong too. In our first match of the season we went 2-0 up at Elland Road thanks to Campbell and Jeffers, but a late brace from David Hopkin and a winner at the death from Darren Huckerby resigned us to an opening day defeat. Nevertheless, this would be our last defeat for quite some time.

We went almost half the season undefeated after the loss to Leeds, dramatically beating Arsenal 4-3, fighting to a 4-4 draw at Anfield and sweeping aside some of the lesser teams in the division with ease. But then came the dreaded trip to Old Trafford, home of Fergie’s unstoppable United, who just last year won the treble. They absolutely demolished us. This kicked off a worrying little spell of form: No wins from 4 games, including 2 more drubbings away at Coventry City and Southampton. We got back on the horse for the last game of the millennium though, beating Middlesbrough 2-1 thanks to a John Collins double, but we’ve just opened the noughties with a drab 0-0 draw against Villa. So since December things have been looking bleak, but we had such a good time up until then that I’m still relatively happy.

The squad felt a little bit bloated when I took over. There were a lot of “decent” players in their mid-twenties to early-thirties that we didn’t need, so I got shot of the lot of them. Fare-thee-well Danny Williamson, Tony Grant, Gareth Farrelly and Terry Phelan. But I have also made a few signings.

I didn’t exactly come into this save with the mindset of “I’m going to go out and sign all my favourite players”. Quite the opposite actually, I wanted to do things properly, using my scouting network to find players rather than relying on my knowledge of the future. It seemed like the most interesting way to play this kind of database after all. But lo and behold, one of my scouts popped up with a report on Blackburn Rovers’ Lee Carsley, someone I’ve described to death in the past, so let’s just leave it at “He’s my kind of player”. He’s not exactly the Lee Carsley I remember, but he’ll be an excellent squad player for us and is a snip at £90k.

My 2nd signing of the January transfer window is Vitesse’s Mustapha Riga, a winger who’s comfortable on both the left and right, but who will I think be my right winger going forward. I really like Cadamarteri, but he’s got a pretty low ceiling and as I can’t really afford a top class right winger, I’d rather bring one in with top class potential.

Stein Huysegems was a player that I just couldn’t pass on, as he’s another with fantastic potential. We have a lot of extremely talented young strikers at the club already, but for £240k, why not have 1 more?

And the final item in my pound shop trolley is Rodolfo Arruabarrena, an enormous Argentine left back who can offer us an immediate upgrade on Michael Ball, although Ball could become better than him in the long run. They’re also quite different players, which I like, with Ball more defensively solid and Arruabarrena more attack-minded. For £1.4M and with Terry Phelan departing, this was a no brainer.

I’m happy with my bargain hunting so far and we’ve still got £6M in the coffers, which I’ll stash away until I see another good deal. I’d quite like a first choice right back still, but other than that we’re in pretty good shape.

1st February 2000

January was still a mixed bag, as it turned out. We beat Bradford and Portsmouth in the FA Cup and Southampton in the Premier League, but drew with West Ham and lost to Derby to balance things out. We have just started February with a 6-1 victory over Wednesday at Hillsborough though, which is promising. Incredibly, centre back David Unsworth has scored 6 goals over this run of games (3 from the spot) and he’s now on 13 for the season. He’s our top scorer, 1 goal ahead of Super Kev. What a man.

We’ve shifted a lot more dead weight over the transfer window too. Promising youngsters Huysegems, Leon Osman, Richard Dunne and Danny Cadamarteri have all left on loan, while a load more “decent” players have been flogged. With Riga effectively coming in to replace Cadamarteri, I thought it best that Danny go out to our new affiliate club Hibs to get some game time.

We’ve also continued to splash the cash. James Biggins is yet another talented youngster to join our ranks for a measly £250k from Forest.

And I once again purchased a real life former Evertonian in Tomasz Radzinski. I think that this one at least is justified though, even for almost £5M. Just look at this monster.

Tomasz scored off the bench against Wednesday on his debut and I’m planning to start deploying him alongside Jeffers so that we can absolutely tear defences apart with their combined pace. This could be the start of a beautiful partnership.

23rd May 2000

We only bloody won the FA Cup, didn’t we! Against Liverpool no less!

So instantly, that’s a successful season for the Toffees in my book. I’m chuffed to bits. We did pretty well in the Premier League too but that comes with a bit of an asterisk. See, it became clear pretty early on that Manchester United would win and then there would be Arsenal, Liverpool, Villa, Leeds, West Ham and Everton in some order behind them. 8th and below were cut adrift of the top 7. We were doing very well and were even 3rd at one point, but eventually we stumbled down to 7th. Comfortably bottom of the chasing pack. It’s still great and we’ll still be in Europe next season, but with a better end to the season we could have finished much, much higher, which leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

We settled some old scores from the first half of the season, though. After our disappointing defeats against Leeds and Coventry earlier, it was thoroughly satisfying to smash both teams to pulp at Goodison Park. We even scraped a home win against United thanks to our new look front 2 of Jeffers and Radzinski. Come to think of it, our home form’s been really good this season.

But yeah, I got sidetracked. The FA Cup. I’d argue we had a tougher run than most, seeing off Arsenal away, then Chelsea and Spurs at home. Luckily United had been knocked out by Chelsea in the 4th round, so they weren’t a threat, but Liverpool had taken 5 points off us in the Premier League and had the Premier League’s top scorer, Michael Owen, up front.

We absolutely thumped them. Somehow. And it ended 0-0. Somehow. Extra time failed to yield a goal, but I’d been preparing for penalties the whole time. I used my subs strategically to give us the highest amount of good penalty takers on the pitch by the 120th minute and we scored our first 3, while Liverpool only scored 2 out of 4. John Collins could win it by scoring our 4th… But he missed. Jamie Redknapp made it 3-3 and I had a horrible feeling that Michael Ball was going to miss and squander our advantage, but to my delight he thumped it home, handing the Blues a 2nd FA Cup win in 6 years. We celebrated into the night, but didn’t set any of Liverpool FC’s office buildings on fire, because we aren’t c**ts.

Our top scorer across all competitions actually did end up being David Unsworth, who scored a frankly disgusting 19 goals from centre back, including 7 from the 7 penalties he took. Radzinski put in a very good showing though, scoring 11 after only making his debut at the start of February. He’ll definitely be one to watch next season.

Unsurprisingly, set piece magician John Collins was the top creator for us and David Unsworth has a lot to thank him for, but I have to say, Kevin Campbell’s 17 goals and 9 assists is a hell of a return, especially as he was more often than not left out in favour of our 2 pacier strikers towards the end of the season.

I’ve already got a couple of players coming in for next season. I’ve raided amateur Czech First Division side Chmel Blsany and snapped up their young goalkeeper Petr Cech on a free. He looks alright.

And also, for those that haven’t used this database before, it’s not just full of players that were playing at the time. It’s also full of players who’ve played since. A lot of future notable players who were under 14 years old in 1999 are free agents waiting to be transferred to their clubs when they turn 14. I love this feature of the database as in theory it means that you’ll still end up with modern players mixed in with the ones from the late 90s. Over the next 11 seasons (I doubt I’ll play that long, but you never know), our academy will be receiving Shane Duffy, Shkodran Mustafi, Jonjoe Kenny, Jack Rodwell, Luke Garbutt, Tom Davies, John Lundstram, Ross Barkley, Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan. The only one joining me this Summer though is this young lad from Croxteth.

In all honesty, I don’t know what to expect. His attributes don’t look great and neither does his potential, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to drag all of that up. If he’s going to play for the first team I’ll want him to be a decent squad player by age 18, so I suppose we’ve got 4 years to figure out how to raise him to the standard we know he can be.

See you in 00/01.

Sidenote: Go play with this database, it’s fantastic. https://footballmanagerstory.com/fm-2020-retro-database-the-1999-2000-beta-retro-database-for-fm20/

My Team Are Shit (Everton 1999/2000 – Intro)

I’ve fallen out of love with football. Hard. And I’m not quite sure what’s caused it.

It could be because the off-field pace of the game has been raised so much with the rise of the 24 hour football news cycle and social media culture, which has given football clubs a “NOW NOW NOW” mentality and in all but very few cases has made concepts like “training players to be better” and “giving managers time” things of the past.

It could be the over-saturation of the conversations around football, with the rise of podcasts (especially daily ones) over the last decade causing subjects like off-field drama, transfer sagas and managerial sack races to be conversed into the fucking ground.

If you know me or you’ve read my work before though, you’ll know there’s an elephant in the room. I’ve been slowly falling out of love with football ever since 2013, when my club, Everton, lost their manager David Moyes. It wasn’t that I thought Moyes was the greatest tactical genius in the World or that his signings were always spot on. To be honest I tore my hair out with the way he’d go through the motions at the start of the decade, making the exact same substitutions at the exact same time every single fucking match like clockwork, never once catching on to the concept that Steven Naismith is NOT A RIGHT MIDFIELDER, DAVID, FOR FU…

Sorry. Anyway, I had my peeves with Moyes, but the fact was that while he was our manager, we were one of the last of a dying breed of old fashioned clubs. Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal all had long serving managers who had relationships with their clubs and with the fans. They had stability. They had varying amounts of trust. Everton fans could sigh with contentment as Fulham fired their 2nd manager of the season, because we at least were still run the right way. We weren’t a part of this new-fangled “Sack the manager after 3 consecutive losses” movement and I really, really loved that. Our players left it all on the pitch for Moyes, we brought through the youth and we never stopped fighting, like every Everton team I’d known my entire life. I also knew that it would come to an end, however and eventually, inevitably, it did.

Admittedly we had an insanely good season immediately after his departure, but since then it’s been a story of stubborn, idealistic but seemingly tactically inept managers, washed up players looking for a last big pay cheque, confused strategy (nice way of saying “no strategy”) and embarrassments too many to list. Nowadays, we hardly leave anything out on the pitch, our youth players are routinely stunted because there’s no progression plan and we’ve got zero fight in us. What I’m saying in my trademark roundabout way is that my team are shit, but even worse, I don’t even know who the fuck we are anymore. I think that’s probably the main factor that’s made me so apathetic towards the sport I used to obsess over.

So since I’ve so far failed to reanimate the festering corpse of Franjo and Slumberland didn’t exactly give me the creative pay off I’d hoped for, I thought I’d let you in on my current FM20 save, where I’m using the retro 1999/2000 database. It’s a fucking work of art and massive kudos to everyone that’s worked on it. I thought this database was the perfect opportunity to fall in love with football again. I could go back and immerse myself in a World where Everton are still shiny and new to me. They’re arguably in an even worse state than the current day side and throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s were routinely staving off relegation, but at least I can identify with them. At least they still uphold the values that I associate with my football club.

I’ll be doing an episode every now and then, probably summarising an entire season in a single episode as I attempt to turn a loveable team of scruffy battlers into the Global force they never became. See you then.

Auxerre 23/24 v Doncaster Rovers 29/30 (Franjo: Slumberland – Match 5)

The half way point.

Good morning, ladies and gents!

Welcome once again to Franjo’s dreams and welcome of course to Slumberland, the show that brought you such unfathomable dreams as “Ricky Tomlinson’s Mario Cart-esque broomstick race around an airport.” Seriously.

I’m your host, John Hutchison.

Today we’re concluding the first half of the Slumberland First Division, a football league featuring 6 of Franjo’s favourite teams scraped from his overactive imagination. I’ll be basking in all of the footballing glory with you in our featured match, which sees your friendly neighbourhood WT Franjo’s Auxerre 21/22 host chronically unemployed 24 year old Dave O’Leary’s Doncaster Rovers 29/30. The 2 teams currently sit 2nd and 3rd in the table on equal points, but Donny have a substantially worse goal difference. A win for either side today would open up some welcome breathing room in 2nd place.

As we’re about to reach the half-way point, let’s check in with the man who’s irredeemably glass-half-empty. How’s it going, Don?

That’s where you’re wrong, ye daft wee c**t, I’m a happy man today.

Don, please, I’m going to have to sensor that. We’re on live television.

I thought it was text commentary? But in the dreams of a cyborg?

I don’t fucking know any more, actually. It’s a weird mash up. And wait your turn, Royston, we’ll come to you in a moment. What’s turned your frown upside down then, Don?

I’m watching the boys, aren’t I. Cut me, I bleed Bordeaux Blue, pal. They’re gunnae hammer County and I cannae wait. Luciano’s back in with the armband for GDB and Voli Bi’s oot. Richard Reeves, Richard Mohammed and Louie Barry all in for the shite stains and Murillo, Saka and Johnson are gone.

Quite drastic changes in County’s lineup there as they seek to turn their fortunes around. Mirrored quite neatly by your own drastic change in mood, too. Creepy. Anyway, let’s go to our half-baked, half-cocked halfwit. Who are you watching, Royston?

Hiya, John. Blackpool 21/22 v Hearts 21/22 for me. Excited for the Scots to kick seven bells again.

Very good indeed. Any team news?

Aye, looks like Higham and Freeman are in for Husband and Hodson for Blackpool. Gallagher in for Sheaf for Hearts.

I’m so proud of you I could actually weep, Royston. I take back the namecalling from a second ago.

Aye, ye can go and assume I’m never listening, John.

Comforting. Well great job, anyway. As for our featured match, Auxerre are making no changes whatsoever following their triumph over Notts County, but Doncaster are making a couple as a result of their capitulation at Hearts. 1st choice goalkeeper Borup Fleming is back in net replacing Raif Husic and Mark Collins is back in again for Esteban Devos. O’Leary clearly doesn’t have much faith in his right backs, I don’t think either of them’s stayed in the team for more than 1 match in a row yet. Auxerre’s Billy is apparently still going to be out for a while and is really in a race against time to feature again at all this season by the sounds of it.

Both sides are ready, the home side in their classic white and blue kit and shooting from left to right, the away side in their black and blue 2nd kit. The officials are donning green shirts and black shorts and socks for those of you interested… Might just be me. Just 1 more thing actually, if you’re going to watch the highlights later on, don’t be alarmed if some of the players don’t have feet. It’s actually surprisingly common here in Franjo’s dreams and is nothing to worry about.

Aye, it’s like he opened the game from Steam instead of Slider, so the boot pack hasn’t loaded correctly, John.

Try not to break the 4th wall, Royston, there’s a good lad. Let’s just all be really impressed that we’re nearly halfway through this tournament and this is the first time it’s happened. Hicham Aidir to get us underway in just a second.

And we’re off!

An early free kick for Auxerre in a dangerous position out on the right wing. Celsiney did really well there, taking on both Smith and Salinas and getting a cross in before Donny’s skipper trips him up.

GOAL! Auxerre 23/24 1 – 0 Doncaster Rovers 29/30
Mamadou Doucouré (3)

What a start for l’AJA! McCarthy whips in a near post cross and Salinas can’t stay close enough to Auxerre’s left back, who leaps up and powers a header low into the goal.

CHANCE! Almost an immediate response from Rovers! Collins’ deflected cross floats into the box from the right wing, Captiste heads it clear but only as far as Sam Smith, who drills it inches wide of goal on the half volley. Lively start here.

GOAL! Blackpool 21/22 0 – 1 Hearts 21/22
Sean Clare (9)

That was as slick as ye like, John. One touch passes from Smith, Clare, Smith and Munro set up Clare for a tap in. The boys from aer the border are ahead.

Rovers have responded well to going behind and are in full control at the minute. Might have been a bit hasty calling it lively though, not a great deal of note is happening.

GOAL! Bordeaux 29/30 1 – 0 Notts County 26/27
Konstantin Gerchev (14)

Name me a more iconic fuckin duo in this league that Lyndon and Gerchev, John. The big la gets the ball from Alles on the right, holds it up and squares it away tae Brazgarian, who thumps it past the pile of wet shite in County’s goal. Bordeaux on the way tae 5 wins from 5.

CHANCE! Not a fantastic one. Presumably out of frustration that Auxerre have been starved of possession, Amine Reynier tries a potshot from about 30 yards. It’s never ever troubling Borup, who catches it easily.

That was a bit better from the home side. Celsiney does well to get some space on the right flank, curls a cross in towards the 6 yard box but Aidir’s strayed offside.

Another Celsiney cross has to be tipped over the bar by Borup in the closest thing to a chance that we’ve had for some time… Anyone know any good jokes?

CHANCE! Oooof it should be 1-1. McCarthy turns over possession sloppily and Albian Ajeti sends Daniel Kubik racing behind Auxerre’s defensive line. He’s free of Isaac Sohna and gets one on one with Xavier Lenogue, but his drilled effort is turned behind well by the Martinique international. Good chance, but Kubik might think that he should’ve buried it.

GOAL! Blackpool 21/22 0 – 2 Hearts 21/22

Both Hearts goals have been so pretty ye could take em home to meet yer ma, John. Barker plays a one-two with Diegui, who chips it back across the box and Barker pure dinks a header over Ruddy intae the far corner.

CHANCE! Another good chance down at the other end! Doucouré cuts in from the left and passes to McCarthy on the edge of the box. The South African’s side footed pass comes to Aidir, who turns but can’t get the ball out of his feet and scuffs a shot straight at Borup.

Isaac Sohna taking no chances there. A long ball comes into the box courtesy of Salinas and Kubik and Lenogue both rush to get to it, but the big Cameroonian defender gets there first and heads it behind. Good awareness from the centre back.

CHANCE! Reid takes the corner, swinging it in to Ben Youssef, who can only glance his header towards the right wing. Doncaster recover the ball and work it back into the box for Albian Ajeti, who shoots on the turn but Lenogue makes a reflex save to deny him an equaliser.

CHANCE! Auxerre counter attack with Celsiney, probably the player of the match so far, tears down the right wing. He lays a pass inside and Reynier gets a shot away just as Ben Youssef flattens him. There’s some power on the effort though and Borup does well to turn it behind.

CHANCE! McCarthy’s corner comes back to him and he chips the ball in again. Romagna beats Aidir in the air but can only head it as far as Reynier, who volleys it low into Borup’s arms. This game’s really come alive again.

CHANCE! I have absolutely no idea how the score’s still 1-0. Doncaster should score again as Pat Reid curls a delicious ball through to Kubik. With Sohna bearing down on him, the young Polish striker tries to hit it early but sends his shot inches wide.

HALF TIME. Auxerre 23/24 1 – 0 Doncaster Rovers 29/30

Well apart from the rather severe lull in the middle, this has been a really action packed 1st half. Hopefully there’s more to come after the break.

HALF TIME. Blackpool 21/22 0 – 2 Hearts 21/22

Hearts well on top over here, John. Great performance, 2 great goals. Blackpool have barely had a sniff and they may as well go haem.

HALF TIME. Bordeaux 29/30 1 – 0 Notts County 26/27

This hasn’t been the stomping I’ve been lookin forward tae all week, John, but I’m confident we’ll see more goals in the 2nd half. County have done next to nothing.

Well, quite a quiet first half across the board then. 45 minutes played, 4 goals scored, 3 teams yet to score. In terms of our table, as it stands, Hearts are leapfrogging Doncaster into 3rd place. Not bad for a team that were predicted to finish rock bottom of the league. Everyone else is staying put at the minute. Let’s get the ad out of the way, shall we?

Play Player Power, the chaotic football arcade game by Dave O’Leary/O’Leary Games now available for £0.79 on Steam!

Really great, original message. I’m off for a steak and kidney and a mocha, back in a few.

Right, back in the saddle again, folks. Doncaster have made a change for the 2nd half, with leading goalscorer Daniel Kubik replaced by Roar Nyhus up front. Let’s see if the Norwegian can turn the tide for the visitors. Albian Ajeti’s ready to kick us off.

Aaaaaaand we’re off!

CHANCE! Doncaster clinging onto the ball in the early stages and they work it up to the edge of Auxerre’s box, where Ajeti takes control. He keeps Captiste at arms length as he turns onto his left foot, then lashes a shot towards Lenogue, who parries it behind for a Doncaster corner.

GOAL! Auxerre 23/24 1 – 1 Doncaster Rovers 29/30
Albian Ajeti (48)

Rovers are back on level terms! The corner’s headed on, punched away, passed back into the box, then Ben Youssef passes to Ajeti, who spins away from Doucouré and whips the ball into the bottom corner. It’s pretty weird to watch the goalscorer sprint away to celebrate with no feet, but again this is no cause for alarm. Game on!

CHANCE! Ajeti’s really got the bit between his teeth now. Sam Smith finds him in the box, he turns past Captiste but shoots straight at Lenogue. Seconds later, Chris Beardsmore finds Nyhus inside the area and the substitute drills one wide. Auxerre desperately need to tighten things up defensively.

GOAL! Blackpool 21/22 0 – 3 Hearts 21/22
Sean Clare (56)

Clare and Munro are giving Gerchev and Lyndon a run for their money today, John. Another pass from Munro, Clare shifts it onto his left foot and blasts it past Ruddy from the edge of the box. Hearts have got it in the bag now.

CHANCE! Another close call for the hosts. Pet Reid plays yet another ball to Ajeti on the edge of the box and he tries to work a bit of space, but his shot deflects wide off the outstretched leg of Captiste.

GOAL! Auxerre 23/24 1 – 2 Doncaster Rovers 29/30
Sam Smith (57)

And the 2nd half turnaround is complete before the hour mark! Pat Reid whips the corner in and left winger Smith dashes to the 6 yard box to meet it, completely losing his marker McCarthy. It’s a good header, directed low into the far corner and out of Lenogue’s reach. Donny lead.

The 4th goal is crucial now. With Auxerre looking completely bewildered, a 3rd for Rovers would surely finish them off. If they can rally to find an equaliser though, we could be on for a hell of an ending.

CHANCE! It’s all getting a bit scrappy since the 3rd goal, but that was a decent chance for Auxerre and their first since the break. Aidir passed into space in the left channel to release Reynier, who thumps a low drive towards goal from 20 yards. It’s too close to Borup though and the goalie parries it to safety.

GOAL! Auxerre 23/24 1 – 3 Doncaster Rovers 29/30
Albian Ajeti (68)

And just as the green shoots were emerging for Franjo’s boys, the earth below them is salted. Not sure if that metaphor holds up, but moving on: Great pass down the right wing from Beardsmore, under pressure from Sissako. Ajeti latches on, escapes Captiste for the 5,000th time this match, sprints across the 6 yard box and clips the ball in at the far post to double his tally. That could well be the killing blow. Whatever O’Leary said at half time certainly had an impact, especially for the Albanian striker.

PENALTY! It just keeps getting worse and worse for Auxerre. Chances of a comeback were already bleak but it’s Ajeti again who turns inside away from Doucouré, only to be met by Abdoulaye “The Battering Ram” Sissako, who knocks him on his arse. Penalty for Rovers and a chance for 1-4.

Just before the penalty’s taken, Donny are bringing on Jeff Lawson for Sam Smith on the left wing. It’s not to take the penalty though, that’s a job for big Pat Reid. The midfielder looks dead set on taking this, despite Ajeti being on a hat trick. Can he put the game beyond doubt?

GOAL! Auxerre 23/24 1 – 4 Doncaster Rovers 29/30
Pat Reid (76 pen)

He can. The Irishman steps up confidently and as Lenogue dives to his right, the ball’s thumped straight down the middle. Stick a fork in this one.

Time for a 5th for Rovers? A pretty dangerous cross comes in from Roar Nyhus and Isaac Sohna denies Ajeti a hat trick by heading behind and conceding a corner.

Reid swings it in, Ben Youssef beats the woeful Captiste in the air but sends his header just wide. The Auxerre skipper’s had a torrid time of it today.

Franjo keeps making this change nearly every match and it hasn’t paid off yet, but Nathan Andre’s replacing Amine Reynier on the left wing. At 1-4 and with 10 minutes to go, it’d be pretty optimistic to suggest it’s going to pay off today.

That’s a really ugly challenge by Jeff Lawson on Lamine Fomba, in roughly the same position that Auxerre scored from almost 2 hours ago. The referee plays advantage though and the home side play on, but it comes to nothing. I probably would’ve taken the free kick.

Issa Samba’s on replacing Celsiney for Auxerre. Not a game-changing substitute in my opinion. Where’s Soumahoro? Where’s Ferhat?? At least have a go!

GOAL! Bordeaux 29/30 1 – 1 Notts County 26/27
Dale Johnson (89)

I hate Notts County with all of my fucking heart, John. Ball over the top, baldie puts it in. Wankers.

Equally pointless substitute by Rovers! Arnold replaces Salinas at left back. Time wasting’s in their interest though, I suppose.

FULL TIME. Blackpool 21/22 0 – 3 Hearts 21/22

Wonderful performance by the laddies today, John. Clare and Munro caused absolute havoc and Blackpool had nae answer tae it.

Great result for Hearts. Not much was expected to separate those 2 sides at the start of the season but they’ve really thrown the gauntlet down now to the likes of Auxerre and Bordeaux. They’re aiming for top half!

FULL TIME. Auxerre 23/24 1 – 4 Doncaster Rovers 29/30

Speaking of which, Auxerre need to take a good hard look at themselves after that second half. How on Earth can a good, positive performance and a half time lead turn so dramatically? Take nothing away from Doncaster though, they were absolutely rampant.

FULL TIME. Bordeaux 29/30 1 – 1 Notts County 26/27

You can take care of this shite, John. I’m tae bed.

Oh. Cheers for the effort, anyway, Don. One thing I will say is that we’ve finally had our first draw of the competition and Bordeaux would’ve been the last team that I would have put money on to be frustrated at home. County have got to pleased with that, though. Judging from the stats, they matched their hosts stride for stride and got their reward.

So here we are at the halfway point. Bordeaux are still sitt